This I Believe

Fry, Margery


  • Margery Fry describes her belief in both Schweitzers reverence for life as well as a "reverence for truth" and how application of these beliefs will lead to the self's service to the "not-self" (other people).
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Miss Margery Fry, the daughter of an English Quaker judge, is best known for her pioneering work in education for women and for penal reform. She was a librarian at Somerville College, Oxford, where she had been a student and later became its principal. She was one of the founders of the Magistrates Association and devoted a good deal of time to investigating problems of crime and punishment and to campaigning for penal reforms. Now at the age of 79, she is still very active in public life. Here is Margery Fry.
I want to state in the simplest and most general form the purposes which I believe that we must,
at our most highest and most human level, take as giving meaning to life. The first is expressed for me in Schweitzer's great phrase, "reverence for life." But we must add another to this: reverence for truth. These are two beliefs. I don't think it's possible to prove them correct. But I do think they're cored with the way of development through which we've come to be what we are, so that their roots lie deep in our unconscious being, in instincts that we accept without question. Though we arrive at them emotionally, they can be supported by reason.
But the question, "What is the truth we must revere?" may seem, today, harder to answer than ever before. Science itself assails its own methods. We begin to question even the instrument of our
questioning. Perhaps, we say, the very shape of our minds unfits us for comprehending the answers to the questions we ask, or even asking the questions rightly. Confronted by such uncertainties, some people throw over all attempts to approach truth as mere hairsplitting. Or else, because they dread the distress of uncertainty, they uncritically accept one system or another, which proclaims itself infallible.
But this isn't the way in which we've attained to the stature of human beings, either in our growing conquest of the world outside us or in building those relations to other people which raise us above mere animals. In these, our growth is dependent on the endeavor to see always more closely into the
life of things. On that highest plane, where we ask questions about the relation of man to the universe, we must similarly reverence truth. Though we may never grasp ultimate truth, the endeavor to approach it is imperative. If, as we may venture to hope, our small lives are in some sense part of a larger whole, anything but complete sincerity must harm our relation to it and be a betrayal, not only of our own nature but of a greater meaning than ours.
Reverence for life has its perplexities too. Yet the survival of our race has depended upon the almost universal instinct to cling blindly to the bare business of living, well then following out the growth lines of our own nature when we widen the scope of this fundamental impulse to the cherishing of other
lives than our own. Yet, we find one manifestation of life competes with another, even within ourselves, so we are forced to establish a sort of "scale" of the "values" of forms-of-life. I believe the higher are those which have the greatest outgoing of the self to the "not-self."
Compare for a moment the narrow, self-centered existence of the idiot, who is almost dead to the larger world, with a deep and wide relatedness of the great thinkers and knowers and makers and lovers of mankind. It is, perhaps, in the undemanding love of parent for child that the expansion of the self into the "not-self" is most completely expressed, more unselfishly than even in the love of lovers. If, in each generation, this life-sheltering impulse didn't outweigh the destructive forces of egoism, our
race would die out. It's a good thing in an age of brutality to let our minds dwell on the myriad tendernesses of unnoticed homes in every corner of the world.
To follow these two principles, the good life isn't easy. It demands that living alongside truth, which we call wisdom; yet, certain things will always, in the light of these twin reverences, stand out as wrong, such as cruelty, sin of treating people as things, the warping of truth to satisfy passion. I believe that no order of life can nourish the best in human nature which isn't based on reverence for life and for truth.
That was Margery Fry, who has devoted her life to public service in England, particularly in
the field of women's education and penal reform.