The Idea and the Ideal

Alex M. Burgess - Providence, Rhode Island
Broadcast during the 1950s
Themes: courage
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In the first broadcast of this program, Mr. Murrow emphasized the confusion of the ages in which we live, its bitterness, cynicism, despair and hysteria. And he stressed the need of such commodities as courage, fortitude, and faith. In many years of service to the sick, it has been my privilege to encounter striking examples of such commodities. The observation of these qualitites in my patients has been to me a great inspiration. In the indestructible reality of such ad-fact virtues, reality equal to that of bricks and mortar and in their supreme value, I believe. Let me build up with you the basis of my belief.

First, what do I mean by the word believe? My understanding is that to believe, is to accept as fact. Belief must be the result of observation, experience, and reason. I must think and accept the results of scientific observation. I must conclude that I am an individual of a species of mammal living on a planet where environmental conditions have been favorable to the development and continued evolution of living organisms. Of these organisms, the species to which I belong is unique, in that we have developed brains of such efficiency, that we can construct , communicate and record ideas. We and all material things about us are composed of molecules, made up of various combinations of atoms, which themselves consist of protons, neutrons, and electrons. These things I know.

By the action of what directing force the primordial particles of matter, protons, neutrons, and electrons, have so arranged themselves as to produce the orderly universe, I do not know. Here is where faith comes in. The idea of God formed in the minds of men, as real as the stones and the stars, and the guiding light of millions. Faith, not knowledge or belief.

We human beings then, with our highly developed brains, have been able to communicate and record our thoughts and to form ideas, concepts, and judgments. These have absolute reality and the greatest value in guiding us. The idea and the ideal, may be of vastly greater significance than material facts. Take, for example, the story of Abraham Lincoln. Of what significance would it be, if our idea of his life, which has inspired so many to better living, were at variance with exact facts. It is the ideal which he has left us, that is important. This exemplified by Lincoln, and by thousands of others, most of them in the obscurity of their private lives, we have the concepts, the qualities of courage, fortitude, friendship, and generosity, standing out as the realities of human existence, that to us are of the greatest significance and value. Merely products of the human mind? Yes, but as real and as powerful as are the gamma rays from a human x-ray tube.

How often have I seen in homes and hospitals, heroes of the sick bay — heroes who expect no distinguished service crosses or congressional medals, but those courageous, pure and undefiled — courage, kindness, generosity and self-sacrifice. It is in the reality, significance, and supreme value of such qualities, that I believe. It is on their development, on an individual and national scale, and on the suppression of such opposites as greed, selfishness, and fear, that the future of our world depends. This I believe.