Speak softly and carry a big stick. – President Theodore Roosevelt

Even when everyone involved is aware that you have a more strong option available; success is more likely to occur when you use a softer approach. That is what President Theodore Roosevelt wants to impart to everyone when he uttered the words, “Speak softly and carry a big stick” when he presented his plan of actions for presidency to the public and the US Congress. Let us unravel the story of such simple but impactful quote of his.

President Theodore Roosevelt

Who was President Theodore Roosevelt?

Theodore Roosevelt, also referred to as Teddy Roosevelt and TR, was born on October 27, 1858, in New York, New York, United States. He was the 26th president of the United States (1901–1909). In addition, he was a naturalist, writer, and soldier. In order to advance the public interest in conflicts between large business and labor, he increased the presidential and federal government’s powers. He also steered the nation toward playing a significant role in world affairs, particularly in Europe and Asia. For his role in mediating the end of the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1955), he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1906. He also secured the Panama Canal’s route and started its construction (1904–1914) [1].

Origin of the Quote

Big Stick Editorial Cartoon

Teddy Roosevelt’s foreign strategy was described as “speak softly, and carry a big stick” on September 2, 1901. His presidency was characterized by big stick diplomacy [2]. The phrase was first used by Roosevelt in public when he spoke before the U.S. Congress with improved naval readiness to assist national diplomatic goals. “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far,” was a statement that Roosevelt had used in a letter to a friend while he was still the governor of New York. Roosevelt later used the statement to explain his interactions with domestic political leaders and his approach to issues like the regulation of monopolies and the demands of trade unions. The expression became synonymous with Roosevelt and was widely used by the press, particularly in cartoons, to critique his foreign policy in particular [3].

Meaning of the Quote

The phrase “Speak softly and carry a big stick” encourages caution and non-aggression while maintaining the option of taking harsh action if necessary. Similar to the saying “the iron fists in the velvet glove,” by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, the “speak softly” theory advocated starting off slowly while reserving a decisive weapon [4]. Moreover, this phrase from President Theodore Roosevelt can be associated with various themes that we can ponder upon with our everyday lives. Here are some of them.

Focus on Improving Your Strengths and Abilities Not Only on Your Words

If you speak words that you can’t backup, then the words are useless.  You need to have “big stick” or the ability and the means to support your words.  If that is the case, you can speak “softly” knowing that the big stick is clear to yourself and to your audience.

Mean What You Say

Conversation, Say

It can be ineffective to speak merely to be heard. Additionally, it can be risky in politics, particularly in foreign policy. Your reputation and the efficacy of your organization or country may decline if you are always babbling without any form of factual support or experience-based credibility. As Plato once said, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.”

Don’t Be Too Loud

Don’t be Loud, Don’t Want to Listen

Even before, many people have lost the ability to be humble. Being humble and possessing humility may immensely benefit a person in their career, whether it be in a corporate environment or perhaps even as the leader of the free world. Instead of just talking nonsensically all the time, try being quiet and humble so that the effects of your actions speak for themselves.

Plan and Control

Plan Ahead

When you prepare in advance, you can illuminate your strategy and identify its flaws. This will enable you to fill in the gaps as necessary and develop backup plans in case the original plan doesn’t work out. Planning ahead will enable you and those around you to adjust and improvise as the situation dictates.

Live Freely but With a Purpose

Live with Purpose, Successful Achievement

If you’re going to do anything, be sure it’s for a reason. Talk privately about your ideas with a small group of people you trust. Act after having that discussion. If you ever decide not to proceed or change your course of direction, keep it a secret. Making your decision to be known to the public exposes you to your adversaries. You don’t have to respond to anyone, but it’s best to keep your silence to yourself so you have time to go back to the drawing board and still project the image of being strong, determined, and active.

Conclusion

When you make something that is for the common good and things don’t go the way they should be, may we be remembered with President Theodore Roosevelt’s quote, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Such statement of his was made when we presented his plans for presidency in front of the US Congress. Roosevelt intends to underline the need of speaking softly, which is another way of saying that we should treat everyone with respect and rigorously avoid doing them any harm while simultaneously maintaining ourselves in a position to guard against being wronged ourselves.

References:

[1] Cooper, J. (2022). Theodore Roosevelt. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Theodore-Roosevelt/ [Accessed August 30, 2022]

[2] National Geographic. (2022). Sep 2, 1901 CE: Big Stick Diplomacy. Retrieved from https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/big-stick-diplomacy/ [Accessed August 30, 2022]

[3] Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2021). Big Stick policy. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/event/Big-Stick-policy/ [Accessed August 30, 2022]

[4] The Phrase Finder. (n.d). Speak softly and carry a big stick. Retrieved from https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/speak-softly-and-carry-a-big-stick.html/ [Accessed August 30, 2022]