Address at Dedication of the Building of the Young Men's Christian Association in San Francisco, California
Mr. Chairman, and You, My Fellow-Citizens, Men and Women of This Great City, of This Great State:
Few things could have given me more pleasure than the privilege of taking part at the dedication, free of debt, of this building to the uses for which it is dedicated, It would be hard to overestimate the amount of good work done by the Young Men's Christian Associations and the Young Women's Christian Associations. [Applause] I well remember that I used to feel for a long time indignant that there were not Young Women's Christian Associations also, and how pleased I was when they started and the development they attained. It seems to me that the Y. M. C. A. has been able to a very marked degree to combine that practical efficiency in action, in adherence to a lofty ideal which should be the aim of all decent citizenship throughout our country. [Applause]
Of course it is not enough to have mere efficiency. The more efficient a man is the more dangerous he is if that efficiency is not guided by the proper type of spirit, by the proper sense of moral responsibility. Of course it is a mere truism to say that the very abilities, physical, mental, moral, that the very abilities of the body, the mind and the soul, which make a man potent for good, if they are guided aright, make him dangerous to himself and to the whole community if they are guided wrong. And the man because of his strength, because of his courage, of his ' power, can do best work for decency, if these attributes are used in the proper service, will do most harm if there is no guiding principle behind them. As I say, that is a mere truism; you all of you know it, in dealing in your own families, with your neighbors, in your relations with the State, that strength of any kind, physical, mental, is but a source of danger if it is not guided aright. On the other hand it is just as important for every man or woman, who is striving for decency to keep ever in mind the further fact that unless there is power, efficiency, behind the effort for decency, scant is the good that will come. It is not enough to have mere aspiration after righteousness; it is not enough to have the lofty ideal; with it must go the power of in some sort practically realizing it. The cloistered virtue which fears the rough contact with the world can avail but little in our eminently practical civilization of today, in the rough and tumble life made necessary, inevitably attendant upon the development of a strong and masterful people working out its fate through the complex industrialism of this age. With decency there must go the power practically to apply it in life, practically to work it out, and to work it out for the benefit of others as well as for one's self. The Y. M. C. A. stands for so much because it represents the work of men and women who to a generous enthusiasm for their fellows, to a lofty ideal of service for the Giver of good, and for all mankind, join the power to realize that ideal in practical ways, the power to work concretely for the attainment of at least some measure of the good sought.
I have come across the work of the Young Men's Christian Association in many different walks of life. I do not know any branch of it that has done better work than the branch connected with the railway organizations, for instance, and I naturally feel a peculiar interest in and rejoice peculiarly over the work done among the soldiers and sailors wearing the uniform of the United States Government. [Applause] Every decent American ought to be proud of the army and the navy of Uncle Sam. [Applause] Therefore, it is peculiarly incumbent upon us to see that the man in that army or navy has a help given in the right way, not the wrong way [applause]; that he is given a chance for wholesome amusement, a chance to lead an upright and honorable life in his hours of relaxation. Another thing the Y. M. C. A. represents, and that is knowledge of human nature. You are not going to do very much good with human nature if you attempt to take the bad out of it, by leaving a vacuum, for that vacuum is going to be filled with something, and if you do not fill it with what is good it will be filled with what is evil. [Applause] The Young Men's Christian Association represents the effort to provide for the body as well as for the mind, to help young men to educate themselves, to train themselves for the practical life as well as for the higher life, and to give them amusement and relaxation that will educate and not debase them. In other words, the Y. M. C. A. in all its branches is working for civic and social righteousness, for decency, for good citizenship. There is no patent recipe for getting good citizenship. You get it by applying the old, old rules of decent conduct, the rules in accordance, with which decent men have had to shape their lives from the beginning. A good citizen, a man who stands as he should stand in his relations to the State, to the nation, must first of all be a good member of his own family [applause]; a good father or son, brother or husband, a man who does right the thing that is nearest, a man who is a good neighbor, and I use neighbor broadly, who handles himself as his self-respect should bid him handle himself in his relations with the community at large, in his relations with those whom he employs, or by whom he is employed, with those with whom he comes in contact in any form of business relations, or in any other way. If there is one lesson which I think each of us learns as he grows older, it is that it is not what the man works at, provided, of course, it is respectable and honorable in character, that fixes his place; it is the way he works at it. [Applause] Providence working in ways that to us are inscrutable conditions our lives so that but few men can choose exactly the work they would like best. One man finds that his lines lie in pleasant places; another not; one man finds that to him is allotted one task and another that he must undertake an entirely different task. All the tasks are necessary. Every man engaged in this great city on this day in any of the innumerable kinds of work necessary to the legitimate life of the city, is himself doing necessary and honorable work; and if we are sincere in our professions of adherence to the principles laid down to the Founder of Christianity, if we are sincere in our professions of adherence to the immutable laws of righteousness we will honor in others and ourselves the power of each to do decently and well the work allotted to him and ask nothing fur- than that. [Applause] If we can get ourselves and the community at large really imbued with that spirit nine tenths of the difficulties that beset us will vanish. For far more important in causing trouble than any material misery or material misfortune, is the moral misery, the moral misfortune, the moral wrongdoing which, on the one hand, makes a man arrogant to those whom he regards as less well off than himself, and which on the other hand manifests itself in the equally base shape of rancor, hate, envy, or jealousy for those better off. [Applause] One form of misconduct is just as bad as the other, and to preach against either only to those afflicted by the other does no good. [Applause] When we practically realize that the worth lies in the way of doing the work; that that applies whether your work is that of employer to employed, of townsman or countryman, of the man who works with his head or the man who works with his hands; when we practically realize that, each man will have too much respect for himself and for his brother ever to permit himself either to look down upon that brother, or to regard him with envy and jealousy, either one. [Applause] When we get that spirit in the community we will have taken a longer stride toward at least an imperfect realization in this world of the principle of applied Christianity than has ever been taken in the world before. [Applause]
I thank you for giving me the opportunity to share in however small a degree in the work that you are doing, and I wish you Godspeed. [Cheers and applause]
Theodore Roosevelt, Address at Dedication of the Building of the Young Men's Christian Association in San Francisco, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/298023