This I Believe

An exercise in optimism

English Instructor Brent Kaneft challenged his AP Language and Composition course with an assignment called “This I Believe,” a project inspired by NPR. The assignment called for the boys to make a statement about something they believe and to write in support and explication of that belief in 500 or fewer words. Then they travelled down to Mr. McMurry’s music lab and recorded each boy reading his essay.

Mr. Kaneft gave this assignment to the boys to show them how difficult it can be to state an actual belief. In our world, the act of negation often replaces an actual philosophy. We critique, we chastise, we devalue, and we reject; it is rare to find a man who will tell you what he believes instead of what he dislikes.

This is, then, an exercise in optimism, an exercise that will help students feel the power of ownership and will expose the meretricious fulfillment of negation.

This I Believe: The Original Introduction

This I Believe. By that name, we bring you a new series of radio broadcasts presenting the personal philosophies of thoughtful men and women in all walks of life. In this brief time each night, a banker or a butcher, a painter or a social worker, people of all kinds who need have nothing more in common than integrity—a real honesty—will talk out loud about the rules they live by, the things they have found to be the basic values in their lives.

We hardly need to be reminded that we are living in an age of confusion. A lot of us have traded in our beliefs for bitterness and cynicism, or for a heavy package of despair, or even a quivering portion of hysteria. Opinions can be picked up cheap in the marketplace, while such commodities as courage and fortitude and faith are in alarmingly short supply. Around us all—now high like a distant thunderhead, now close upon us with the wet choking intimacy of a London fog—there is an enveloping cloud of fear.

There is a physical fear, the kind that drives some of us to flee our homes and burrow into the ground in the bottom of a Montana valley like prairie dogs to try to escape, if only for a little while, the sound and the fury of the A-bombs or the hell bombs or whatever may be coming. There is a mental fear which provokes others of us to see the images of witches in a neighbor’s yard and stampedes us to burn down his house. And there is a creeping fear of doubt—doubt of what we have been taught, of the validity of so many things we have long since taken for granted to be durable and unchanging.

It has become more difficult than ever to distinguish black from white, good from evil, right from wrong. What truths can a human being afford to furnish the cluttered nervous room of his mind with when he has no real idea how long a lease he has on the future. It is to try to meet the challenge of such questions that we have prepared these broadcasts. It has been a difficult task and a delicate one. Except for those who think in terms of pious platitudes or dogma or narrow prejudice—and those thoughts we aren’t interested in—people don’t speak their beliefs easily or publicly.

In a way, our project has been an invasion of privacy, like demanding a man to let a stranger read his mail. General Lucius Clay remarked, “It would hardly be less embarrassing for an individual to be forced to disrobe in public than to unveil his private philosophy.” Mrs. Roosevelt hesitated a long time. “What can I possibly say that will be of any value to anybody else,” she asked us. And a railway executive in Philadelphia argued at first that we might as well try to engrave the Lord’s Prayer on the head of a pin, as to attempt to discuss anything thoughtfully in the space of five minutes.

Yet, these people and many more have all made distinctive contributions of their beliefs to this series. You will hear from that inspiring woman, Helen Keller, who despite her blindness has lived a far richer life than most of us; from author Pearl Buck, sculptor William Zorach, businessmen and labor leaders, teachers and students. Perhaps we should warn you that there is one thing you won’t hear, and that is a pat answer for the problems of life.

We don’t pretend to make this time a spiritual or psychological patent medicine chest where one can come and get a pill of wisdom to be swallowed like an aspirin, to banish the headaches of our time. This reporter’s beliefs are in a state of flux. It would be easier to enumerate the items I do not believe in, than the other way around. And yet, in talking to people, in listening to them, I have come to realize that I don’t have a monopoly on the world’s problems; others have their share, often far, far bigger than mine. This has helped me to see my own problems in truer perspective. And in learning how others have faced their problems, this has given me fresh ideas about how to tackle mine.

I hope as you listen to future programs on This I Believe, that they may be of assistance to you in a similar way.

-- Edward R. Murrow hosted This I Believe from 1951 to 1955. The newsman gained acclaimed for his CBS Radio broadcasts from London during World War II. His television documentaries for “See it Now" and “CBS Reports" tackled subjects ranging from Joseph McCarthy to farm worker rights. Murrow died of complications from lung cancer in 1965.