21. Afterword

If I have anything at all resembling genius, it is the gift for leadership. -
Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore emphasized that he was an ordinary person. His ancestors were poor immigrants like everybody else’s. They just came over earlier. He said he and Franklin had a common ancestor, “a very common ancestor;” nobody fancy. As a child he was ordinary. He was overactive, sickly, he craved approval from his parents like all of us and was, perhaps more than most, acutely sensitive to criticism.

His struggle with asthma strengthened him to meet other difficulties without buckling. He was stricken with a mood disorder but found ways to deal with it.

His hyperactivity and sense of humor charmed everybody. Like many hyperactive people, he talked incessantly, but, unlike them, he directed his talk towards subjects of interest to his guests. He was well informed on almost every subject. His memory for names and faces astonished everyone.

He was a visionary. He predicted World War II. He knew that Germany might rise again to conquer all of Europe. He suspected that the United States would be dragged into any world wars. He predicted that his grandchildrens’ generation would be called on to fight.

He made unerringly correct decisions “drawing on what we should now call his subconscious.” In 1889 F. W. H. Myers wrote, “[G]enius is best defined...as a mental constitution which allows a man to draw readily into conscious life the products of unconscious thought.”1

Myers wrote about the voices of St. Joan of Arc:

One there has been who was born with no conspicuous strength of intellect, and in no high or powerful place, but to whom voices came from childhood onwards and brought at length a strange command--one who by mere obedience to that monitory call rose to be the savior of a great nation - one to whose lot it fell to push that obedience to its limit, and to pledge life for truth; to perish at the stake rather than disown those voices or disobey that inward law.
I speak, of course, of Joan of Arc.

Myers believed in “the possibility of an impulse from the mind’s deeper strata which is so far from madness that it is wiser than our sanity itself...We need not assume that the voices which she heard were the offspring of any mind but her own, any more than we need assume that the figures in which her brave and pious impulses sometimes took external form were veritable saints.”

Vita Sackville-West, St. Joan’s biographer, says that according to Myers, her genius “represents the supreme and ideal sanity...Genius...is the ready uprising of the subconscious into the realm of the conscious, and may take many forms of expression.” Here she gives the example of mathematical and musical geniuses. There is no hint of any supernatural power or diseased brain in such geniuses.2

Theodore Roosevelt was a genius. A genius at political leadership. He himself said, “If I have anything at all resembling genius, it is the gift for leadership.”3 He had a clear vision, almost prophetic, based on what he knew of history. His closeness to nature and his ability to go into a meditative trance even as a child brought him closer to his subconscious and to a spirit world of which he admitted the existence, almost as a matter of course. Several years before he died he recommended the reading of The Varieties of Religious Experience, by William James, as well as other philosophical and spiritual works, so that we could try to understand the existence of a spiritual dimension as he saw it.

Your purpose in life, what you were born to do, is buried in your subconscious. That purpose is something perfectly natural for you, something suited to your personality. It in no way goes beyond or outside of what the “real you” is. In What Are Saints? Father Martindale says “Saints retain all the human nature that is in them, all their personal, temperamental, hereditary, educational characteristics...They retain their tendency to gentleness or to imperiosity, to sense of humour or to sense of sublimity (or to both), to timidity or to audacity, as much as anyone else does; if they are vividly intelligent men, they do not become dolts; if they are very simple men, they do not become philosophers.”4

During your life you subconsciously prepare yourself with your hobbies, your schooling and jobs for your true purpose in life. Sometimes there seems to be no particular reason for holding a certain job. It is only later that you may recognize what that job was preparing you for. Theodore didn’t know why he was drawn to politics, but once in the New York Legislature he learned to cooperate with people of all different backgrounds. His leadership ability was recognized early. He was made the leader of committees and the minority leader in the Assembly. Out West he built himself up physically, increased his self-confidence by handling dangerous situations supremely well, and led men on cattle drives. His leadership abilities were tested again at the San Juan Heights. His experience as Governor of New York and Police Commissioner of New York City tested his executive abilities.

As a child he trained his memory by becoming an amateur ornithologist and naturalist. His cousin Nicholas said, “Ornithologists in particular find it essential to watch for very small variations in color and form of birds and find it helpful to be able to detect, classify, and recall these variations without having to refer to text books.”5 His memory became so good that he was able to remember the thousands of names and faces of people he met while President. His childhood reading encouraged his photographic memory whereby he could envision a book in front of him and “read the words contained therein.” This talent enabled him to come up with appropriate quotes at the appropriate times, astounding everyone.

Saint or not, he was a genius in the intuitive sense described above. He always stressed that he was a very ordinary child, trying to lead us to the conclusion that we can do it too. We can find the genius lurking in our subconscious and use it. We can discover our purpose. He used his genius for the good of the American people. This genius, for want of a better word, has a noble purpose. If he showed us anything, he taught us that it is up to us to become as healthy as we can, physically, mentally and spiritually, so that we can bring this “genius” into the light of day of our consciousness. William James said, “no outward changes of condition in life can keep the nightingale of its eternal meaning from singing in all sorts of different men’s hearts...If the poor and the rich could look at each other this way...how gentle would grow their disputes! What tolerance and good humor, what willingness to live and let live, would come into the world!”6 Morally exceptional individuals are described by William James as having souls that work and endure in obedience to some inner ideal. “Inner meaning,” he said, “can be complete and valid for us also, only when the inner joy, courage, and endurance are joined with an ideal.”7

Viktor Frankl said, “You may of course ask whether we really need to refer to ‘saints.’ Wouldn’t it suffice just to refer to decent people? It is true that they form a minority. More than that, they always will remain a minority. And yet I see therein the very challenge to join the minority. For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.”8