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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick

If the people of these isles have one unifying characteristic that
stamps them indelibly as British, it’s the rock-solid,
unshakeable, ongoing conviction that this must surely
be [Andy] Murray’s year.

 [Speak softly, and carry a big stick:] The idea of negotiating peacefully, simultaneously threatening with the "big stick", or the military, ties in heavily with the idea of Realpolitik, which implies an amoral pursuit of political power that resembles Machiavellian ideals. [Theodore] Roosevelt first used the phrase in a speech at the Minnesota State Fair on September 2, 1901....

Typically the phrase “speak softly, and carry a big stick” is used in reference to national policy. But I would like to ask not what the phrase means for a nation, but what it means for an individual—for you and me? I suppose the free availability and use of handguns can come to mind, but this needlessly curtails the usefulness of the phrase. So, other than the threat of violence, what can it mean? 

Framed in this way, it can refer to personal power (be it wealth, knowledge, or skill) or power of character. I would like to focus on the phrase as it applies to character. Strength of character can come from honesty, courage, conviction, steadiness, faith, hope, and love. In a brief phrase, this boils down to tenacity of conviction. Give me an individual with strong conviction and all other attributes mentioned can follow. Without conviction, all else becomes nugatory. Conviction defined: “An unshakable belief in something without need for proof or evidence” (WordWeb Pro). “A strong persuasion or belief (certainty)” (Merriam-Webster's 11h Collegiate Dictionary). In the end conviction comes to mean absolute and unassailable certainty regarding what can be called “last things”. By this phrase I do not mean the end of the world, but the ultimate end we live and sometimes die for. As a Christian this is not in any way esoteric or intractable, but based wholly within the love of God.

So while conviction resides in the hearts and minds of individuals, it can have national implications. A country that thinks “carrying a big stick” only means wealth or military power has in a sense lost direction—has in a sense lost its soul. Without a firm anchor of personal belief set within the love of God, all things disintegrate or as William Butler Yeats wrote in “The Second Coming”

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.....

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