10/16/2013 02:52 pm ET | Updated Dec 16, 2013

Men And Women in The Arena

Standing on the sidelines is easy.

Few things are easier, actually.

It takes little, if any, effort to look upon a problematic situation, decide that it can't be solved with the resources at hand, and announce, "I don't need to be part of this."

The same minimal amount of effort is needed to abandon dreams and goals that, while worthy in their conception and objectives, seem too daunting to actually carry out. "It's just not going to happen" seems all too easy to pronounce.

But where would we be if such defeatist notions ruled the day? We would have none of the technological and social advances that define our world, indeed our very existence. Lost would be the progress that has improved lives for millions, and inspired countless more to advance the cause.

For years, Edison couldn't figure out how to make a filament that would last. For years, a cure for polio eluded us. For years, science's finest experts were stumped by everything from how to keep food fresh to how to make automobile engines run more efficiently.
Yet somehow, they figured it out. They were not afraid to keep doing battle in the quest for victory. They were not, as President Theodore Roosevelt described them, afraid to be "Men in the Arena" -- tested, to be sure, but also convinced that an answer was within reach, and willing to be those to whom success or failure in the quest was attached.

Success in any worthy endeavor is bumpy along the way. Go ahead. Randomly select a scientific or social wonder that we take for granted today, and chart its course to success. At some point -- probably at several points -- its developers said, in moments of weakness, "I give up," or "It's just not going to happen." Yet they soldiered on, and we are the richer for it.

My office is home to a framed excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt's "Citizenship in a Republic" speech -- delivered at the Sorbonne in 1910, almost two years after he left the presidency -- that reinforces not only his status as a diplomat, statesman, warrior and president, but also his vision as an advocate of social activism and American tenacity. His words encapsulate what I believe to be true about those committed to the future of health sciences education and care:

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

We learn nothing, gain nothing, give the world nothing, by accepting defeat when the answers are out there. It is in the striving for answers that we succeed, and set an example for others. We are the men and women in the arena.

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