How to Refill an Empty Life

Nesbitt, Albert J.

  • Albert Nesbitt describes how his successful life as a manufacturer left him feeling dissatisfied; it wasn't until he began to apply the Golden Rule, to engage with his factory union workers as people with legitimate points of view, and become involved in YMCA service, that the emptiness left him as he practiced what he calls Christian principles. This episode is a rebroadcast of an earlier airing.
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And now, This I Believe.
2nd Announcer: This broadcast is the repetition of an earlier performance and is being repeated because of the special interest it aroused. Here is Edward R. Murrow as he first introduced the guest.
This I Believe. Albert J. Nesbitt is an industrialist, president of the John J. Nesbitt Company which makes heating units and ventilators. His favorite sport is fox hunting, riding to hounds. At the same time, he is president of the Philadelphia YMCA, and furiously active in civic affairs ranging from the Community Chest to the Council of Churches. Against that background, Albert J. Nesbitt reveals his beliefs.
One day about fifteen years ago I suddenly came face to face with myself and realized there was something quite empty about my life. My friends and associates perhaps didn't see it. By the generally accepted standards, I was "successful," I was head of a prosperous manufacturing concern, and I led what is usually referred to as an "active" life, both socially and in business. But it didn't seem to me to be adding up to anything. I was going around in circles. I worked hard, played hard, and pretty soon I discovered that I was hitting the highballs harder than I needed. I wasn't a candidate for Alcoholics Anonymous, but to be honest with myself I had to admit I was drinking more than was good for me. It may have been out of sheer boredom.
I began to wonder what to do. It occurred to me that I might have gotten myself too tightly wrapped up in my job, to the sacrifice of the basic but non-materialistic values of life. It struck me abruptly that I was being quite selfish, that my major interest in people was in what they meant to me, what they represented as business contacts or employees, not what I might mean to them.
I remembered that as my mother sent me to Sunday school as a boy and encouraged me to sing in the church choir, she used to tell me that the value of what she called a good Christian background was in having something to tie to. I put in a little thought recalling the Golden Rule and some of the other first principles of Christianity. I began to get interested in YMCA work.
It happened that just at this time we were having some bitter fights with the union at our plant. Then one day it occurred to me: What really is their point of view, and why? I began to see a basis for their suspicions, their often chip-on-shoulder point of view, and I determined to do something about it.
We endeavored to apply--literally apply--Christian principles to our dealings with employees, to practice, for example, something of the Golden Rule. The men's response, once they were convinced we were sincere, was remarkable. The effort has paid for its pains, and I don't mean in dollars. I mean in dividends of human dignity, of a man's pride in his job and in the company, knowing that he is no
longer just a cog but a live personal part of it and that it doesn't matter whether he belongs to a certain church or whether the pigmentation of his skin is light or dark.
But I can speak with most authority on how this change of attitude affected me and my personal outlook on life. Perhaps, again, many of my friends did not notice the difference. But I noticed it. That feeling of emptiness, into which I was pouring cocktails out of boredom, was filling up instead with a purpose: to live a full life with an awareness and appreciation of other people. I do not pretend for a second that I have suddenly become a paragon. My faults are still legion, and I know them.
But it seems to me better to have a little religion and practice it than think piously and do nothing
about it. I feel better adjusted, more mature than I have ever felt in my life before. I have no fear. I say this not boastfully but in all humility. The actual application of Christian principles has changed my life.
That was Albert J. Nesbitt of Philadelphia, at once a hard-headed businessman and warm-hearted human.