March 18, 2013
People from many different walks of life share their personal philosophies.
This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women, Edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman, Forward by Studs Terkel
Review by Arlene Harder, MA, MFT
Back in 1952, Edward R. Murrow introduced several thoughtful essays by people who shared the principles that guided their lives. Now a new set of essays are presented with thoughtfulness at a time when it is especially important, I believe, that we pay attention to what we believe, and why.
This I Believe, edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman, in association with National Public Radio, offers, as the dust jacket says, “a stirring and provocative trip inside the minds and hearts of a diverse group of people whose beliefs— and the incredibly varied ways in which they choose to express them — reveal the American spirit at its best.”
I was intrigued with these essays from the very first chapter when I read Sarah Adams’ philosophy about life, which is to “be cool to the pizza delivery dude; it’s good luck.” She believes that the cornerstone of life is based on the principle that coolness to the pizza delivery dude is a practice in humility and forgiveness, a practice in empathy, a practice in the honor of honest work, and a practice in equality.
Although I would give this book a five-star rating, I think they might have found a better subtitle than the one they used, which is “The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women.” Even though the editors acknowledge in the forward that not all of the writers are well-known, by having “remarkable” as part of the title, some readers might get the impression that only people with great accomplishments have great philosophies.
Rather, I believe that most of us, if given a little time and willingness to rewrite what we want to say (I’ve never written anything that didn’t need at least a little editing, and often a great deal) could create essays that are equal to those in the book. In fact, you are invited to visit http://www.thisibelieve.org and submit your own philosophy of life.
The following is an excerpt from the book that expresses what I believe about the power of our actions. In the post on Caine’s Arcade, I suggest something like the following:
When Ordinary People Achieve Extraordinary Things
BY JODY WILLIAMS
Excerpt from the book This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women
I believe it is possible for ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things. For me, the difference between an “ordinary” and an “extraordinary” person is not the title that person might have, but what they do to make the world a better place for us all.
I have no idea why people choose to do what they do. When I was a kid I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I did know what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to grow up, have 2.2 kids, get married, the whole white picket fence thing. And I certainly didn’t think about being an activist. I didn’t even really know what one was.
My older brother was born deaf. Growing up, I ended up defending him, and I often think that is what started me on my path to whatever it is I am today.
When I was approached with the idea of trying to create a landmine campaign, we were just three people in a small office in Washington, D.C., in late 1991. I certainly had more than a few ideas about how to begin a campaign, but what if nobody cared? What if nobody responded? But I knew the only way to answer those questions was to accept the challenge.
If I have any power as an individual, it’s because I work with other individuals in countries all over the world. We are ordinary people: My friend Jemma, from Armenia; Paul, from Canada; Kosal, a landmine survivor from Cambodia; Haboubba, from Lebanon; Christian, from Norway; Diana, from Colombia; Margaret, another landmine survivor, from Uganda; and thousands more. We’ve all worked together to bring about extraordinary change. The landmine campaign is not just about landmines — it’s about the power of individuals to work with governments in a different way.
I believe in both my right and my responsibility to work to create a world that doesn’t glorify violence and war, but where we seek different solutions to our common problems. I believe that these days, daring to voice your opinion, daring to find out information from a variety of sources, can be an act of courage.
I know that holding such beliefs and speaking them publicly is not always easy or comfortable or popular, particularly in the post-9/11 world. But I believe that life isn’t a popularity contest. I really don’t care what people say about me — and believe me, they’ve said plenty. For me, it’s about trying to do the right thing even when nobody else is looking.
I believe that worrying about the problems plaguing our planet without taking steps to confront them is absolutely irrelevant. The only thing that changes this world is taking action.
I believe that words are easy. I believe that truth is told in the actions we take. And I believe that if enough ordinary people back up our desire for a better world with action, we can, in fact, accomplish absolutely extraordinary things.
Jody Williams is the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. Williams previously did humanitarian work for people in El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Her interest in advocacy began with a leaflet on global activism handed to her outside a subway station.
Reprinted from the book This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman, eds. Published by Henry Holt. (October 2006;$23.00US/$31.00CAN; 0-8050-8087-2) Copyright © 2006 This I Believe, Inc.
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