The Only Way to Make a Friend

Herbert Lehman - New York
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, May 29, 2009
Herbert Lehman

Governor, Senator and investment banker Herbert H. Lehman believes that preserving freedom of expression requires us to respect the views of others and provide equality for all.

So many things affect a man’s philosophy and his life that I find it difficult to put into words my personal beliefs. I hesitate to speak of them publicly for fear of giving the appearance of preaching.

Two convictions, however, I believe have more than any others influenced my thinking both in private and in public life.

First, commonplace as it may sound, I am convinced that what we get out of life is in direct proportion to what we put into it. Second, I must respect the opinions of others even if I disagree with them.

Throughout my long and rather busy career I have always held firmly to the belief that I owe life as much as it owes to me. If that philosophy is sound, and I believe that it is, it applies, I hope, to all of my activities—to my home, to my daily work, to my politics, and above all things to my relationships to others.

Life is not a one-way street. What I do, what I say, even what I think, inevitably has a direct effect on my relationships with others. I am certain that in the degree that my attitude towards others has given convincing proof of loyalty, sincerity, honesty, courtesy, and fairness, I have encouraged in others the same attitude towards me. Respect begets respect, suspicion begets suspicion, hate begets hate. It has been well said that “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”

None of the blessings of our great American heritage of civil liberties is self-executing. To make effective such things as brotherhood, kindliness, sympathy, human decency, the freedom of opportunity, the very preciousness of life—to make these things real requires respect and constant vigilance. This is the core of my American Faith.

As I have said, I believe I must help to safeguard to all men free expression of their views even though I may be in disagreement with them. I must listen to and study responsible views; sometimes I will learn much from them. No individual and no nation has a monopoly of wisdom or talent. When an individual or a nation becomes self-satisfied or complacent, it is time, I believe, to be deeply concerned. He who closes his ears to the views of others shows little confidence in the integrity of his own views.

There can be no question with regard to the inherent rights of Americans to enjoy equal economic opportunity in every field, to secure decent living conditions, adequate provision for the moral and spiritual development of their children, and to free association with their fellow men as equals under the law and equals in the sight of God. These rights can be safeguarded and advanced only where men may think and speak freely. I reject a fundamental principle of democracy if I seek to prevent a fellow citizen of different background from fully expressing his thoughts on any subject. I have tried to express a few of my own thoughts on this subject which is very close to me. I think that we will have good reason for optimism about the future of the American ideal as long as men can and will say, without fear, what they believe.

Herbert H. Lehman was a partner in the Lehman Brothers investment banking firm. He served in the Army during World War I, rising to the rank of colonel. Lehman was Governor of New York from 1933 to 1942, and served as U.S. Senator from 1949 until 1957.