This I Believe

Guthrie, Tyrone, Sir
1952-09-02

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Tyrone Guthrie describes his belief that concepts traditionally considered to be opposites (God vs. the Devil, good vs. evil, success vs. failure, happiness vs. unhappiness) are really points on the same spectrum, and impossible to fully separate.

Subjects
Good and evil
Moral conditions
Ethics
Happiness
Success
Failure (Psychology)
Great Britain
BBC
Sadlers Wells Theatre (London, England)
Old Vic Theatre (London, England)
Permanent URL
http://hdl.handle.net/10427/75717
ID: tufts:MS025.006.004.00011.00005
To Cite: DCA Citation Guide
Usage: Detailed Rights
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And now, This I Believe. A series of living philosophies presented in the hope they may help to strengthen and enrich your life. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Tyrone Guthrie is an Anglo-Irish theater producer. Early in his career he found at his great height, six foot five was too much of a handy cap on the stage so he changed to production work and became the youngest producer of the Old Vic. Now at fifty-one he has a reputation as an administrator of the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells, a Shakespearean producer and a BBC Broadcaster. Here is Tyrone Guthrie.
If you go sufficiently far north on this planet, you will eventually arrive at the North Pole. And if you continue moving in the same direction, you will, paradoxically, find that you’re moving south. Analogies can be misleading, but I think this polar access analogy can be usefully applied. It isn’t only physically that we can find ourselves going south when we think we’re going north. Heat isn’t really but only logically the antithesis of cold. They’re both degrees of the same quality of matter. Similarly, light and dark are degrees of another quality, poles of another axis.
In my job—I work in the theater—one’s nose is constantly and rather forcibly being rubbed in the contrast between success and failure.
But the odd thing is they’ve come to seem to me aspects of the same thing, not opposites, but poles of the same axis. I don’t mean that a successful career is indistinguishable from failure; of course, it isn’t. But success in one department of life is only achieved at cost of failure elsewhere: a spectacularly successful career, for instance, at the expense of home life, or, or health, or peace of mind. Also, just as a plant cannot simultaneously put great energy into the formation of root, flower, and seed, so a life that is most successful at flowering will probably not, at the same moment, be really securely rooted in the past. Nor may these flowers produce the seed of future success. Great men, have you noticed… great men scarcely ever have great sons.
The epitome of the paradox about success and failure was the agonizing and final failure of a worldy career at Calvary. In the sphere of ethics, I cannot now believe in absolute good and absolute evil. They seem to be poles of a model axis, and what is good in one context may very well be evil in another; what is good behavior for me may be bad behavior for you. This, I realize, commits me to believing that the personifications of good and evil, God and the Devil, are merely aspects of the same idea. This seems highly unorthodox, and I’m trying to adjust myself to it. Meantime, I hold onto the idea that if one cannot believe in absolute good and evil, there are still valuable checks to conduct in the social conventions. No one but a fool will flout the conventions of the society in which he lives without serious thought.
As an aim in life, I don’t look to happiness, for instance, because I can’t regard happiness as the opposite of unhappiness. Both are an adjustment to emotional circumstances, one positive and one negative. But as in the case of success and failure, in my experience the positive and negative states are indistinguishable. Happiness is always shot through with agony; misery never unalleviated. Our natures, it seems, are a delicately balanced mechanism. Equilibrium is preserved by an elaborate system of compensations.
I believe our end and aim should be to seek for equilibrium between the different aspects of our own nature, and a balanced adjustment of ourself to the particular other tiny fragments of the universe with which you are contact even though we don’t yet know how this balance works…nor why.
That was Tyrone Guthrie the British theatrical producer. A man who loves experiment and change in his work.