This I Believe

Andrew - Austin, Texas
Entered on January 8, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30

The world is full of different people. Out of all those different people there are many different traits and characteristics, and out of all those traits and characteristics there are scores of ways to perceive their value. Some of us have developed envy for the qualities of others, and some of us scorn. Some of us have even taken for granted that the diverse attributes among mankind are derived from the individual, almost in a sense of ownership. This I do not believe. Our concept of relating the multiple components of a person’s potential with that particular person is many times done incorrectly. Intelligence, facial symmetry, natural strength, cleverness, skin color, functioning bodies, aptitudes…these are all inherent factors that a person has no ability to control whatsoever.

Personal reflection over this often overlooked observation can produce a realization no matter who is making the effort to fathom this concept. Let’s say you are a tall smart man with a natural ability to swim. You will discover these qualities within yourself and probably use them, and by doing so you might also develop a sense of pride or arrogance about your being able to do these things, or at least reliance in your abilities that you believe are rightfully yours because you discovered them. It is true that you are responsible for acknowledging those elements of your character, and it is also true that you cannot transfer those inherent abilities to anyone other than yourself. But it is not true that you in some way are better or worse than another person for having whatever it is you have. You could have just as easily been born someone of average height with dyslexia and six fingers. You might grimace at the thought or say “but I wasn’t,” but it is true that you did not, have not, and never will do anything that would affect the natural features of your being that you have been endowed with.

Whether one considers their abilities a gift of god or a gift of genetics, those abilities are no doubt a gift independent of their receiver. I do not consider others to have value in the faculties they possess, nor do I consider people to be the faculties they possess. I enjoy Beethoven’s ability to create musical masterpieces on the piano and the violin, and I marvel at Einstein’s ability to generate the theory of relativity and explain the photoelectric effect. But it should be expected that men with those capabilities would go on to accomplish the things these men did because using our gifts is the natural way of life. I do not consider Beethoven to be musically talented or Einstein to be intellectually genius. I consider these men to be fortunate receivers of the gifts of intelligence and musicianship, and for those I hope they would be grateful. The most amazing people to me are those that go through life using attitudes or skills or aspects of their persona that they must develop. The people that don’t have gifts, but still fight for their place in this world with their earned perseverance. There is more wonder in someone paralyzed from the neck down who picks up a pencil in their mouth and writes books than a top-class athlete who can run a mile in three minutes and forty-five seconds.

Too often we misinterpret what our good and bad circumstances mean in life. Preferring someone in general who is gorgeous to someone who is in general not so gorgeous is proportional to preferring someone who is white over someone who is black, because neither beauty nor race are factors that we are able to influence before existing. Our natural qualities do not belong to us, but rather the eternal unknown that happened to confer them to us, and so we should appreciate their value apart from ourselves, while evaluating others based on the possessions they can rightfully call their own. This I believe, and for my fortunate gifts I am grateful.