This I Believe

Edwin J. Lukas - New York, New York
Broadcast during the 1950s
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When I was quite young, a wise man told me that a nation, its population, internal fortunes, and international position as an economic and political power, will undergo many significant changes in the course of the average citizen’s lifespan. But whatever the tide of events, it must not, he said, be permitted to have a measurable effect upon his abiding belief in, and respect for, the worth and dignity of his fellow man. Otherwise, he said, anarchy follows.

Now as a young upstart, I was characteristically skeptical, for I had not yet formulated any more philosophical attitude toward the human race, than that it was designed merely to provide gadgets, conveniences, comforts, and of course luxuries for itself. True, then as now, people handicapped themselves with unreasonable suspicion and active hostility toward others of different religion, or race, or national origin. But fortunately, I had not yet been victimized by the consequences of that species of man’s unreason, nor was I competent to recognize the evidences of his capacity for self-destruction. I was, like so many others, a bystander.

However, as my youth slipped eventfully, often turbulently, into early adulthood, the hardships of a deprived life in a large city, and the necessity to earn a livelihood, brought me rudely to an awakening. I became increasingly shocked at the manifestations of the sometimes venomous, and always tawdry, prejudice that many folk exhibited, displaying a shameless façade of superiority that had not a historical, nor biological, justification. A decent respect for differences eluded them, and of course they behaved accordingly. Yet the concept of equality of opportunity is the only one calculated to encourage an individual to labor for the common welfare and to mean harmonious social relationships among people of different cultural backgrounds. Instead, discrimination in employment, in education, housing, public accommodations, and a double standard of criminal justice, inevitably produce tragic strife.

Man must have faith in the worth and dignity of man. This is the ideal we substitute for the corrosiveness of prejudice. It is to the realization of that aim that I have hitched my wagon. It’s a mixture of fear of the unknown, distrust of what we do not understand, plus superstition, that produce racial and religious intolerance, pitting men against their unoffending fellows. I am now anchored firmly to the belief that through intensive education and the strategic use of law and other forms of social action, the consequences of bigotry must be spared every human being of whatever race, religion, color, or national origin. Moreover, I believe that if we would enjoy the reputation of a democracy, we must live democratically. This means more than merely the impulse to be a good democrat, a good American.

Perhaps I ought to emphasize, as well, its practical value. After all, prejudice is fabulously expensive. Its cost is incalculable in dollars, and the number of lives it blights is enormous. Among other consequences, many potentially contributive persons are excluded from the sciences. It plucks millions from the labor market, and by that token, from the buying markets. In so many different ways, it impoverishes him who imposes the pattern of discrimination, as well as him who is its victim. This theme should now be engraved deeply in our hearts and minds. But the translation of its meaning into action still escapes us mischievously. Until our behavior toward our fellow man is to that extent modified, the very stuff of which our American way of life is made, and by which it will be made to endure, will, I believe, be constantly threatened, possibly forfeited.