How speak softly and carry a big stick applies to life


Kevin Mangelschots

We all know someone who’s kind, lovable and speaks softly. And when conflict arises, they’re the first to negotiate peace and cooperation instead of using verbal or physical force.

Yet, this kindness is not the same as weakness since we know they’re an absolute badass capable of extreme violence should the circumstances require it. Nevertheless, they don’t resort to making threats. This is what we call carrying a big stick.

It’s a great philosophy to have in life, since it promotes competency, honesty, and confidence since there’s no fake bravado involved with this particular mindset.

So what does speaking softly and carrying a big stick mean exactly? And how does it apply in life? Let’s find out.

What does, "speak softly and carry a big stick" mean?

A woman whispering something to her man while holding his shoulder.

Speak softly and carry a big stick conveys that you should carry yourself respectfully, and be kind to other people while maintaining non-aggressive verbal and non-verbal communication. It means that you negotiate for peace and prosperity rather than choosing more forceful options if possible.

It implies that you should be cautious and gentle with other people while having a more forcible option available for when the situation calls for it. Yet, the ‘big stick’ threat should remain unspoken, and only taken out when absolutely necessary.

Carrying a big stick means that you are capable of using more drastic alternatives if needed. It conveys that you have the capacity for violent, and aggressive actions when required to protect yourself, your loved ones, or to get what you want.

What does speak softly and carry a big stick mean for our daily lives?

A person holding a question mark in front of their face.

Approach people in good fate

I think it’s important to approach people in good faith while being respectful and truthful.

This means being friendly, kind, and gentle, while exploring peaceful options that promote cooperation should conflicts spring up.

Kindness is not a weakness

Yet, this kind of approach should not be confused with weakness or naivety.

It takes true strength and confidence to behave properly, and respectfully, and to constrain yourself in a harsh world that often entices you to use force to get what you want.

It’s easier to become bitter and cynical through all our bad life experiences than it is to remain optimistic. But staying kind will enrich your own life, and that of others as well.

Always have a more forceful option available

You should always have a more forceful option available for when the situation requires a more drastic approach.

And when you have that capacity for violence, then people will instantly notice it, and respect you as a result. This means that you should explore and develop your ‘shadow side’ to integrate it into your being so that you can tap into it on command.

People respect competence and strength

Illustration of a vicious cycle, showing that if you give respect, you get respect.

The reason people respect power and being capable is that we are all hard-wired to respect competence. Knowing that your body will always subconsciously carry out what you think.

Thus, being confident and able will seep through your behavior and communication with others.

Some people don’t play by the rules

Why do you need to carry a big stick with you at all times? (No pun intended.) It’s because some people simply don’t respond to the rules that the government is trying to enforce.

Some don’t care about niceties, fairness, and respect. As such, they are willing to do anything to get what they want, no matter how amoral or harmful it is for others.

To protect yourself in life

Some steal, rape, murder, and every other thing that won’t see the light of day. And you can’t protect yourself against them if you don’t understand them. It might seem contradictory since these are despicable people. But how are you going to defend yourself when you can’t even understand their mindset and how they think?

The thing is this. We can’t understand what we don’t have a bit in ourselves. I’m not saying we are any of the above. But I think all of us possess both good and bad traits, and it just depends on what will manifest itself based upon what we decide to feed, as that will grow in strength.

Thus, it isn’t that far-fetched that people can come to walk a very dark path if they already possess the capacity to do so in their DNA. Factor in some bad experiences early on in life, several unfortunate events, and a potentially very bad upbringing with little to no love, and it will come as no surprise that some people go off the rails.

To combat this, we need a kill-or-be-killed mentality at times.

Everyone has some inherent bad traits that we need to control

The quote, “accept how you feel but don't let your feelings rule you. You are in control” written in white on a grey background.

Since all of us inherently have those bad traits, albeit most likely not manifested since we had a decent upbringing with lots of love, we can somewhat understand why people go off the rails and do bad things.

Just because you understand it doesn’t mean you have to like it or find what they do right. But it is required to figure out how to defend yourself from those predators.

It’s also an ethical question. If you could just brute force yourself through life, emotionally and/or physically harming those who are in your way, would you do it? Technically, it’s sometimes much harder to be kind, generous, and respectful in a world that can be extremely harsh, cynical, and hurtful.

But the easy path is not always the right one to take. And in this case, I believe that taking the hard route is superior since it will teach us many viable life skills such as practicing respect, kindness, empathy, restraint, and many more.

Moreover, if people would lash out at the slightest whim, then it isn’t hard to imagine how society would devolve. Fights would break out everywhere, and chaos would ensue. Thus, it wouldn’t be possible to maintain a peaceful and cooperative society. It’s in everyone’s interest to maintain a well-functioning society since this will benefit all of us.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Who said to speak softly and carry a big stick?

Black white picture of Theodore Roosevelt in 1901 sitting on a horse.

Speak softly and carry a big stick origin

Teddy Roosevelt, also commonly called Theodore Roosevelt first uttered the phrase, “Speak softly and carry a big stick”. Thus, the quote originated on 2 September 1901.

He was the 26th President of the United States from September 14, 1901 – March 4, 1909. He is known for being an American politician, soldier, statesman, naturalist, and conservationist. But he was also an avid writer and historian.

He used this popular quote to define the foreign policy that he employed during his presidency.

President Theodore Roosevelt speak softly and carry a big stick foreign policy was based on what?

President Theodore Roosevelt speak softly and carry a big stick foreign policy was based on the ‘stick diplomacy’ that he employed.

This means that he utilized carefully employed negotiation (speaking softly) while simultaneously having access to a large and powerful army if necessary (big stick). Yet, the large army wasn’t talked about, and thus, the threat remained unspoken.

Big Stick Diplomacy of Theodore Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt used diplomacy to forge peace and prosperity, but it was always backed up by a willingness to use his considerable political and military power if the situation required it.

  • Speak softly

    Speak softly by negotiating sincerely to broker peace and military accord.

  • Big stick

    Should the negotiation fail, or get out of hand, then other, more forceful options will be employed to get what he wanted. Think of using sizable military power, political power, and economic power.

Speak softly and carry a big stick examples

Image of the word “example” being written with a blue marker by someone's hand.

A possible example of speaking softly and carrying a big stick could be the following interaction.

Let’s say you’re walking down the street, and someone starts an argument with you. Quickly, you realize they’re out to escalate that confrontation, and chances are that it might even get physical.

You answer assertively, yet respectfully, that you’re not looking for trouble, and would like to just go about your day (speak softly). Yet, you know that you’re a trained martial artist and that you would fight and employ physical force by using said skills if push came to shove (big stick).

Speak softly and carry a big stick synonyms

Synonyms for speak softly and carry a big stick are:

  • Walk softly and carry a big stick
  • Tread softly and carry a big stick

While the wording might be slightly different, the meaning remains the same.

Thus, those quotes can be used interchangeably.


Image of the word, “conclusions” written on a black backboard with white chalk.

I think it’s a good philosophy to talk softly and carry a big stick in life.

You’ll be looking for peace and cooperation, all the while being respectful to those you meet. Nevertheless, you’ll have the capacity for more forceful measures should the situation require it.

But beware, some people might take your kindness and ‘softness’ for weakness. In return, they might be willing to test you by offending you, bullying you, and in extreme cases even attempting physical assault.

That’s precisely why you should have a big stick to pull out. (No pun intended.) Life can be rough, and this means that you should always be prepared to defend yourself both physically and verbally!