Tuesday, October 28, 2008

This I Believe: Our Noble, Essential Decency

(Robert Heinlein, "Our Noble, Essential Decency", from This I Believe (1952))

I'm writing this before the election for two reasons.

1) Because I don't want anybody saying I was influenced by winning or losing the election. That's not what this is about. And

2) Because I want everybody who hasn't voted yet to remember the stakes.

The above recording is Robert Heinlein in 1952, reading his personal declaration on Edward R. Murrow's old radio show, This I Believe:
I am not going to talk about religious beliefs but about matters so obvious that it has gone out of style to mention them. I believe in my neighbors. I know their faults, and I know that their virtues far outweigh their faults.

Take Father Michael, down our road apiece. I’m not of his creed, but I know that goodness and charity and loving kindness shine in his daily actions. I believe in Father Mike. If I’m in trouble, I’ll go to him. My next door neighbor’s a veterinary doctor. Doc will get out of bed after a hard day to help a stray cat—no fee, no prospect of a fee. I believe in Doc.

I believe in my townspeople. You can knock on any door in our town, say “I’m hungry,” and you’ll be fed. Our town is no exception. I found the same ready charity everywhere. For the one who says, “The heck with you, I’ve got mine,” there are a hundred, a thousand, who will say, “Sure pal, sit down.” I know that despite all warnings against hitchhikers, I can step to the highway, thumb for a ride, and in a few minutes a car or a truck will stop and someone will say, “Climb in, Mack. How far you going?”

I believe in my fellow citizens. Our headlines are splashed with crime. Yet for every criminal, there are ten thousand honest, decent, kindly men. If it were not so, no child would live to grow up. Business could not go on from day to day. Decency is not news. It is buried in the obituaries, but it is a force stronger than crime.

I believe in the patient gallantry of nurses, in the tedious sacrifices of teachers. I believe in the unseen and unending fight against desperate odds that goes on quietly in almost every home in the land. I believe in the honest craft of workmen. Take a look around you. There never were enough bosses to check up on all that work. From Independence Hall to the Grand Coulee Dam, these things were built level and square by craftsmen who were honest in their bones.

I believe that almost all politicians are honest. For every bribed alderman, there are hundreds of politicians—low paid or not paid at all—doing their level best without thanks or glory to make our system work. If this were not true, we would never have gotten past the Thirteen Colonies.

I believe in Rodger Young. You and I are free today because of endless unnamed heroes from Valley Forge to the Yalu River. I believe in—I am proud to belong to—the United States. Despite shortcomings—from lynchings, to bad faith in high places—our nation has had the most decent and kindly internal practices and foreign policies to be found anywhere in history.

And finally, I believe in my whole race—yellow, white, black, red, brown—in the honesty, courage, intelligence, durability, and goodness of the overwhelming majority of my brothers and sisters everywhere on this planet. I am proud to be a human being. I believe that we have come this far by the skin of our teeth—that we always make it just for the skin of our teeth—but that we will always make it, survive, endure.

I believe that this hairless embryo with the aching oversized braincase and the opposable thumb—this animal barely up from the apes—will endure, will endure longer than his home planet, will spread out to the other planets—to the stars and beyond—carrying with him his honesty, his insatiable curiosity, his unlimited courage, and his noble essential decency. This I believe with all my heart.

In a week, Americans will finish voting. We believe that "our side" is the correct one to lead the country forward. So do "they". Most of us are sincere in our beliefs and think that those who disagree are merely misguided, not evil. The vast majority of us want the best for the country and our fellow citizens.

Many of us on the Left feel that the elections of both 2000 and 2004 were stolen, and we fear (with good reason) that 2008 may go the same way. We fear that Americans will not elect an African-American to the White House, or that a President-elect Obama will be assassinated, or that there will be violence during his term in office.

Some on the Right fear that international terrorism will somehow "win" if McCain is defeated, or that the evils of socialism will come to America, or that good Christians will be given the Mark of the Beast. They fear that "leftist radicals" will riot if Obama is defeated, or that an obstructionist Congress will halt what they believe is progress in the Middle East or Afghanistan or in fighting illegal immigration.

We are all Americans. We are all confined to this small globe we call Earth. Those of us who are entitled to vote next week will make a decision that will have world-changing effects on every soul on the planet.

We are all in this together. All of us -- "yellow, white, black, red, brown", as Heinlein said -- will suffer the consequences and share the achievements of the next four years. And the next eight years. And the next century, which will be dominated in no small part by decisions we American citizens make in the next seven days.

Regardless of the outcome of the election, regardless of the individual gains and losses, regardless of the emotions left behind in the wake of broken promises, missed expectations, and suspected irregularities, we must remember...

Our Noble, Essential Decency

and that

We Are All in This Together

as we lurch forward toward our preferred futures.