Two or three years ago, I read a story about a little boy who visited the Detroit Zoo with his parents. The zoo, it seems, had recreated the backgrounds of certain well-known children’s stories. One of these was the story of The Three Little Pigs. The boy and his parents stopped to admire the setting. “Look,” said the parents in pleased surprise. “Why the houses really are made of bricks and straw and wood.” The little boy couldn’t understand their astonishment. “What else would they be made of?” he asked.
I felt a pang of regret for the lost magic of childhood when I read that story, for I believe that as children, we have an instinctive acceptance of the good as true. But as we grow up and enter a world which seems both materialistic and competitive, we begin to compromise with truth and even to substitute for it the half-truth, the half-good. And I believe that to be really happy, we must come back consciously to the truth we accepted unconsciously when we were children.
Most of us start on this road back—this road home, really—only when, like the Prodigal Son, everything else has failed. I think that a personal philosophy is usually born of despair and of the refusal to accept despair. Somewhere in each of us is an instinctive feeling that life is not supposed to be as hard as it seems to be, that life is supposed to be good. And I believe that no person, not even a criminal, does evil for evil’s sake, but because he hopes that by his act, he will obtain his good.
I believe that this basic good for which we are all looking is love. I don’t mean romantic love, or even the more selfless love of parent for child, although these are expressions of it. In a more ideal form, we call it the “brotherhood of man.” Its composites are goodwill, tolerance, and understanding. But I believe that they cannot truly fulfill their purpose without the dynamic of love.
I believe that to receive love, I must be able to give it. And I believe that the first step toward that is the ability to love one’s self, not in pride or in vanity, but in the sense of being at peace with one’s self. I believe that I must learn to be patient with myself, as I try to be with others, not excusing my failures, but not despairing over them either. For I believe, as Walt Whitman put it: “No man understands any greatness or goodness but his own, or the indication of his own.” And I have found that the things I dislike in my fellow men are the things I dislike in myself.
I believe that in close personal relationships, I cannot bind those I love. I learned this not too long again from a person older and much wiser than myself. I had found a fledgling bird which had fallen out of its nest. I took it in, raised it, and when the time came to let it go, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. “You don’t really love it,” my friend said. And when I protested, he shook his head. “No,” he said gently, “what we really love, we let go free.”
I believe that love must express itself in actions, not in words, for the words have no meaning of themselves. And I believe that when I shall have learned to express love to my family, my neighbors, my country, and my world, I shall come in time to know the fullness of love, for I believe that love is God and that God is love.