1913 | Oyster Bay, NY

Class Act

On feigning fearlessness.

When a boy, I read a passage in one of Frederick Marryat’s books which always impressed me.

The captain of some small British man-of-war is explaining to the hero how to acquire the quality of fearlessness. He says that at the outset almost every man is frightened when he goes into action, but that the course to follow is for the man to keep such a grip on himself that he can act just as if he was not frightened. After this is kept up long enough, it changes from pretense to reality, and the man does in very fact become fearless by sheer dint of practicing fearlessness when he does not feel it. This was the theory upon which I went. There were all kinds of things of which I was afraid at first, ranging from grizzly bears to “mean” horses and gunfighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid, I gradually ceased to be afraid. Most men can have the same experience if they choose. They will first learn to bear themselves well in trials which they anticipate and which they school themselves in advance to meet. After a while the habit will grow on them, and they will behave well in sudden and unexpected emergencies which come upon them unawares.

It is of course much pleasanter if one is naturally fearless, and I envy and respect those who are. But it is a good thing to remember that the man who does not enjoy this advantage can nevertheless stand beside the man who does, and can do his duty with the like efficiency, if he chooses to. Let him dream about being a fearless man, and the more he dreams the better he will be, always provided he does his best to realize the dream in practice. He can do his part honorably and well, provided only he sets fearlessness before himself as an ideal, schools himself to think of danger merely as something to be faced and overcome, and regards life itself as he should regard it, not as something to be thrown away but as a pawn to be promptly hazarded whenever the hazard is warranted by the larger interests of the great game in which we are all engaged.

Contributor

Theodore Roosevelt

From his Autobiography. In 1915, six years after leaving the White House, Roosevelt spoke to a mostly Irish audience of the Knights of Columbus at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. “There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism,” he said. An originator of this nativist phrase, he expanded on the idea: “There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.”