This I Believe

Cantrell, Hadley

  • Hadley Cantrell describes the differences between knowledge, beliefs, and emotions, and states his belief that human beings are essentially the same in their needs and aspirations, and that satisfaction comes through high quality work motivated by love.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Hadley Cantrell, professor of psychology at Princeton University and director of the Office of Public Opinion Research, is one of the recognized pioneers in his field. During World War Two he acted as expert consultant to the government on psychological warfare. He is the author of several important works on public opinion including “The Why of Man’s Experience” and co-author of “How Nations See Each Other.”
As a teacher of psychology, it is my job to try to help students understand what we call human nature. It is not surprising that students are quick to sense the fact that our understanding of human beings, while progressing, is still most limited. For human beings are infinitely more complicated than anything else in the world. The most giant lightning calculator is almost idiotically simple by comparison.
So after I have tried to tell students what I know, they frequently come in to see me privately, and ask, “But Professor, what do you really think? What do you believe is true about people, even if you can’t yet prove it all? What sort of beliefs can we have to base our living on?”
I begin by telling these students, of the vast difference it seems to me there is between knowing and believing. Knowledge is an intellectual affair that we can somehow demonstrate, make public, and pass on to others through the use of words, experiments, and figures. Beliefs, however, are feelings, which we become aware of if we take the time to train ourselves to pay attention to them. We must be careful to distinguish our beliefs from crude emotions, or from the pleasures or irritations of the moment. Beliefs are intensely personal, not public like a fact or a figure. And beliefs are hard to put in words, unless one is a gifted poet or prophet, skilled in using parables.
In spite of these differences, everything I believe, I tell the student, is in line with what I know. And then I try to summarize my personal credo of beliefs. I believe that human beings everywhere are born with the same human needs and human aspirations, no matter how different their abilities or modes of life many be. I believe that every person is trying to do his best, no matter how badly he may seem to others to be doing. The chief characteristic of human beings, is their ceaseless desire to improve the quality of living, which means that any person who is normal will always be dissatisfied with things as they are for him, no matter how content others may think he is.
I believe that happiness comes in the striving for some goal that seems to us important, And not in The accomplishment of The goal itself. That we as human beings are perfectible, because we can help shape our destiny by choosing our own goals. And that any group or nation which denies man the right to choose, And thus prescribes a way of life, is committing a major crime against human nature, and cannot itself survive.
When we choose a course of action that we feel deep down inside us is not the best in terms of what is good, or just, or true, then I believe we have sinned, and know that we have sinned.
Any goal worth following, when once achieved, will point to still other goals we couldn’t clearly see before, and thus keep us looking ahead at the same time we accept the past. I believe that tolerance is a virtue, likely to defeat itself unless it leads to charity, which is the ability to take into account the other fellow’s purposes, and to give him help if we feel he is heading in the right direction.
And finally, I believe that the quality of our satisfactions depends on the quality of what we do, and that the quality of what we do, in turn, depends on the quality of our intentions. If action is kindled by goodwill and love, it can never be wrong.
That was Hadley Cantrell, chairman of the department of psychology at Princeton University.