I began reading This I Believe during yesterday’s plane ride to Kentucky and I’ve been overwhelmed by the stories, testimonies, and life philosophies that create a personal credo by answering one simple question.
What do you believe?
This concept was first aired on a 1950s radio program, hosted by journalist Edward Murrow. At the time, Americans gathered around their radios to listen to personal doctrines from acclaimed celebrities such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, and Helen Keller, as well as not-so-famous individuals like cab drivers, secretaries, and scientists — anyone willing to share their life-guiding principles.
Essays shared in the 1950s brought words of comfort to listeners worried about issues such as the Cold War and racial divisions. Today, This I Believe, Inc., a not-for-profit organization, engages people of all ages and from all walks of life to share their values and beliefs in writing, sharing, and discussing brief essays. Visit their website, www.thisibelieve.org, to learn more, or submit your own essay!
In the coming weeks, I will share essay excerpts from This I Believe to my blog readers. In reading this book, I’ve noticed that the stories from the 1950s are just as — if not more — poignant today than they were 60 years ago. I hope you enjoy these life-guiding lessons and, I welcome your response to the simple question: What do you believe?
THE MOUNTAIN DISAPPEARS
By: Leonard Bernstein, as featured in the 1950s series
I believe in people. I feel, love, need, and respect people above all else, including the arts, natural scenery, organized piety, or nationalistic superstructures. One human figure on the slope of a mountain can make the whole mountain disappear for me.
I believe that man’s noblest endowment is his capacity to change. Armed with reason, he can see two sides and choose: He can be divinely wrong. I believe in man’s right to be wrong. Out of this right he has built, laboriously and lovingly, something we reverently call democracy. He has done it the hard way and continues to do it the hard way – by reason, by choosing, by error and rectification, by the difficult, slow method in which the dignity of A is acknowledged by B, without impairing the dignity of C. Man cannot have dignity without loving the dignity of his fellow.
I believe in the potential of people. I cannot rest passively with those who give up in the name of “human nature.” Human nature is only animal nature if it is obliged to remain static. Without growth, without metamorphosis, there is no godhead. If we believe that man can never achieve a society without wars, then we are condemned to wars forever. This is the easy way. But the laborious, loving way, the way of dignity and divinity, presupposes a belief in people and in their capacity to change, grow, communicate, and love.
I believe in man’s unconscious mind, the deep spring from which comes his power to communicate and to love.
I believe that my country is the place where all these things I have been speaking of are happening in the most manifest way. America is at the beginning of her greatest period in history — a period of leadership in science, art, and human progress toward the democratic ideal. I believe that she is at a critical point in this moment and that she needs to believe more strongly than ever before in her and in one another, in our ability to grow and change, in our mutual dignity, in our democratic method. We must encourage thought, free and creative. We must respect privacy. We must observe taste by not exploiting our sorrows, successes, or passions. We must learn to know ourselves better through art. We must rely more on the unconscious, inspirational side of man. We must not enslave ourselves to dogma. We must believe in the attainability of good. We must believe, without fear, in people.
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Composer, conductor, pianist, and educator, Leonard Bernstein was longtime music director of the New York Philharmonic, where he led the highly successful Young People’s Concerts series. Bernstein forged a new relationship between classical and popular music with his compositions West Side Story, On the Town, Candide, and others.