As we near the end of one of the saddest side effect of our beloved democracy — the every-four-years cycle of Americans thinking the worst of one another — I found myself with the need to reassure myself about human nature.
This I Believe was a radio program that Edward R Murrow hosted from 1951 to 1955, in which both famous and everyday people recorded short essays about their personal belief systems. We have many audio recordings from This I Believe in the TDL, and I found myself listening to them. So here are the living philosophies of some thoughtful men and women from the 1950s, presented because at least for today, they helped my life be richer, fuller, happier.
(You can also view all of the interviews in our new, beta digital library which gives you the option of reading the transcript on its own or watching it scroll with the audio. For example, this is the current digital library recording of Mrs. Philip W Pillsbury, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America‘s statement of faith in God. Here is Mrs. Philip W Pillsbury in our beta digital library. Play around, see what you can see! This site is beta, of course, so not everything is going to work.)
Here are a few interviews that stood out for me, presented in the non-beta, stable digital library.
If I could sum up what I believe in a single sentence, I think it would this: I believe in the future. [...] I believe in the youth of our nation. For three decades, I have devoted all I can of time, effort, and money to young people’s groups and youth organizations. I believe that they are our brightest hope and promise for the future of America. I therefore feel that I should dedicate myself to their training with unstinting devotion.
One can find among all people and all religions the same love of truth and of freedom which leads towards peace. I, therefore, believe that through mutual understanding and fellowship will come universal brotherhood. I believe in removing the mental barriers between peoples and bringing them close to each other’s heart. Common fear and mistrust only come from ignorance, and the gulf can be bridged only by knowledge. I believe greater knowledge can create new bonds of trust and friendship among all peoples.
We must therefore cultivate a sense of proportion about men and affairs.
This sense of proportion would teach us a certain degree of self-restraint, moderation, and even a spirit of resignation in respect of things which cannot change and which must be endured. We must not presume that whatever little we might have achieved, it could all have been the result of our own efforts. I’m all the time conscious of the fact that what little I know is insignificant compared to what I do not know. I am aware that we can, if we will, learn something from everyone, and that we should be somewhat modest in trying to teach and preach. We should be less strict in judging others and less lenient in judging ourselves.
Contemplation of the great human achievements through the ages is helpful to me in moments of despair and doubt. Human meanness and folly then seem less important. Humanity has but a short history of civilized life, and the hope for greater wisdom must resign itself to a fairly distant future. Gone are the somewhat Utopian hopes of my youth, the belief in rapid, continuous progress. Hope remains, but the timescale has widened.
As I think about it, I have realized that even my community activities have been motivated by a strong conviction of the part that opportunity plays in our way of life. For example, most people refer to hospitals and related social agencies as “charities.” Some time ago, I began to work for these institutions and they ceased to have, for me, the patronizing significance we associate with the term “charity.” Instead, I see them as necessary parts in the pattern of a community. Without them, a large city simply couldn’t cope with its human problems.
Through our great networks of privately supported agencies, opportunity is preserved for countless people to achieve normal and useful lives. Believing, as I do, that this preservation of opportunity is vital to our system, I not only feel a responsibility but find satisfaction in helping with such enterprises. Somehow there is ample reward from the sense of better balance in my personal life and a sense of belonging to my community.
In our daily lives, we must earnestly try to replace the distrust and suspicion that are everywhere with trust and mutual confidence. We must remember that the hostilities and aggressions that flare so readily result from our tempo and our way of life, and we must try to meet them with understanding and constructive action.
As I work in my office in the tallest building in New York, I feel that the architects of Manhattan have a lesson to teach to all men in all nations: We can and should expand skywards and not sideways. War and political domination are born of sideways expansion. Class strife, racketeering, and corruption are also born of sideways expansion. With the aid of modern science and technology, individuals and nations, by the proper development of their faculties and resources, can achieve a well being with the sky as the limit. I never cease admiring Switzerland and Denmark, countries which have managed to achieve not only a high standard of living, but a high standard of culture, in spite of material limitations.
In face of wars and rumors of wars, of the atomic bomb and Communism, I remain a moderate optimist. Without trying to prophesize that a third World War is out of the question, I believe that mankind has hopes for world peace—if not in the immediate future, then probably within a matter of decades. I watched the rise of the military clique in Japan and of the Nazis in Germany in the 30s. I derive some comfort from the fact that the Japanese militaries and the Nazis only succeeded in unleashing war after they have suppressed freedom at home. This fact points out to me that in the promotion of human freedom, we have a sure road to peace. As a diplomat, this I believe.
Again I believe in the youth of our land, whose fearless courage is both stimulating and inspiring. I believe that they are a true reflection of the principles and teachings of America’s great heritage: the free public school. Because I believe that these young people have a right to expect to take their place in this complex world, free from all fear, I have dedicated myself to fight for the protection of this inalienable right, that I can and shall find real happiness in that service. I believe that in order to do this, one can never be too busy to be kind. Extending a warm hand of fellowship from an understanding heart to those who share the passage of this orbit with us.
I believe in people. I don’t know why, but I like to be with and to watch people.