Old Creeds In A New World

Dag Hammarskjold - New York, New York
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, August 27, 2010
Dag Hammarskjold
United Nations photo

United Nations’ Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold gleaned his belief in the value of public service from his family’s line of soldiers, government officials, scholars and clergymen. Hammarskjold said willing fulfillment of duty was an expression of love.

Age Group: 30 - 50

The world in which I grew up was dominated by principles and ideals of a time far from ours and, as it may seem, far removed from the problems facing a man of the middle of the twentieth century. However, my way has not meant a departure from those ideals. On the contrary, I have been led to an understanding of their validity also for our world of today. Thus, a never abandoned effort frankly and squarely to build up a personal belief in the light of experience and honest thinking has led me to recognize and endorse, unreservedly, those very beliefs which once were handed down to me.

From generations of soldiers and government officials on my father’s side I inherited a belief that no life was more satisfactory than one of selfless service to your country–or humanity. This service required likewise the courage to stand up unflinchingly for your convictions.

From scholars and clergymen on my mother’s side I inherited a belief that, in the very radical sense of the Gospels, all men were equals as children of God, and should be met and treated by us as our masters in God.

Faith is a state of the mind and the soul. The language of religion is a set of formulas which register a basic spiritual experience. I was late in understanding what this meant. When I finally reached that point, the beliefs in which I was once brought up were recognized by me as mine in their own right and by my free choice. I feel that I can endorse those convictions without any compromise with the demands of that intellectual honesty which is the very key to maturity of mind.

The two ideals which dominated my childhood world met me fully harmonized and adjusted to the demands of our world of today in the ethics of Albert Schweitzer, where the ideal of service is supported by and supports the basic attitude to man set forth in the Gospels. In his work I also found a key for modern man to the world of the Gospels.

But the explanation of how man should live a life of active social service in full harmony with himself as a member of the community of the spirit, I found in the writings of those great medieval mystics for whom “self-surrender” had been the way to self-realization, and who in “singleness of mind” and “inwardness” had found strength to say yes to every fate and demand life had in store for them when they followed the call of duty. “Love,” that much misused and misinterpreted word, for them meant simply an overflowing of the strength with which they felt themselves filled when living in true self-oblivion. And this love found natural expressions in an unhesitant fulfillment of duty and in an unreserved acceptance of life, whatever it brought them personally of toil, suffering–or happiness.

I know that their discoveries about the laws of inner life and of action have not lost their significance.

Swedish economist and diplomat Dag Hammarskjold was the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, serving from 1953 – 1961. He worked to ease tensions between Israel and Arab nations, and to defuse the Suez crisis. Hammarskjold was killed in a plane crash in Zambia in 1961.