I suppose that what I believe begins with the fact that when I was not quite 12 years old, I had to learn the trade of staying alive. At that point, orphaned and deprived of all formal education with the exception of less than seven years of grade school, I was homeless, part of the vast contingent of American wanderers known to most people as Hobos. But starting unaided, I was also unfettered and privileged to find my values at the ultimate source, I believe, of all lasting faith: the reality of direct, personal experience. On the brute animal level what staying alive means is clear enough. But in man, staying alive has a deeper meaning involving mind and spirit of which the first step is recognizing the need for self-use. For without use, the living organism atrophies and ultimately perishes.
The next step comes from the fact that using all of yourself to the hilt demands and creates that uniquely human quality, consciousness, without which you can never discovery who, what, and where you are. Consciousness, in turn, makes you sensitive to the world outside. And so I learned that any man, however creative or self-reliant, is only a small speck in the whole of humankind, and that the full realization of his civilized personality only comes from his interest in, and service to others. That is the path along which I developed my credo, using a lifetime which includes being a farmer and longshoreman, a bricklayer, a printer, an economist, munitions maker; a producer, as well as a writer in motion pictures and radio; and finally, today, an investment counselor and novelist co-existently Throughout, as I sought the best I knew-how, to find my potentialities and possibilities, I came back again and again to the fact that a man who fails to develop the fullest possible relationship to other people, must be described in the spiritual and mental sense as not being alive at all, but dead.
The next inevitable step was the realization that achievement matters more than success. That is basic. The self-centered drive for security at the expense of others makes the success-seeker a predatory and lonely creature, who prowls among men like a beast in the jungle. It also makes him hollow, hated, and a frightened man. Whereas one who lives freely and generously among his fellows, unafraid of failure, endlessly carries with him that hidden glow of life, and richness of spirit, which no misfortune can steal, no good fortune upset, and no advancing years diminish.
This sense of relatedness to others, this use of self through service, this choice of achievement as an alternative more rewarding than success, all lead to that climax I referred to earlier, namely the acceptance of a central but paradoxical idea, that the only security there is in life comes from making peace with the fact that there is none. And so today, at the age of 49, I am still practicing the first trade I learned at the age of 12, hopefully with deeper understanding and skill: that of evermore fully, staying alive.
Jay Richard Kennedy is a man of many careers. In New York’s Wall Street, he is known as an investment counselor. But throughout the country, he is known as the author of Prince Bart. He has had an unusually extensive apprenticeship, for depicting in his novel, some of the problems and tensions of contemporary American life. And from his varied experiences, Jay Kennedy has distilled these beliefs. — Biographical Sketch by Edward R. Murrow
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.