To Give Freely of Myself

Heller, Elizabeth


  • Elizabeth Heller describes how her experiences with receiving and giving small gifts led her to believe that giving helps people come to know one another and reduces conflict between them; this belief led her to found the "Share Your Birthday" movement in an effort to promote international peace through the act of children sharing toys with other children across the world.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Elizabeth Heller is a young housewife with a deep faith in the basic altruism of children, which she has translated into a novel scheme for the promotiion of international goodwill. Since World War II her “Share Your Birthday Campaign” has resulted in the distribution of over eight million toys, contributed by United States children to youngsters all over the world. This is what she believes.
It seems to me that true philosophy is lived long before it is formulated into words. It took about half of my life for me to recognize the far-reaching importance of mere incidents which are now the basis of my deepest convictions. What I believe and, consequently, what I do is the result of things so seemingly unimportant as to be scarcely noticed at the time they occurred. Things like the feeling I got when, as a little child, I would share my ice cream or candy with other children; or, on the receiving end, when a young woman whom I knew to be rather poor handed me a lovely handkerchief with the casual remark that “while walking through Marshall Field’s, she saw this kerchief and thought it suited me.”
Often I recognize a warm feeling of friendship arise through the thoughts represented by an insignificant gift to casual acquaintances, and watch, with keen satisfaction, their own thoughts turn to similar niceties towards me and others. Such little practices and a genuine interest in people and their problems resolve themselves into a simple discovery, that minds open up like petals to the sun when touched by the warm rays of one’s heart. From here on, understanding, blending of opinions, and tolerance of differences are a chain of stimulating experiences enriched by a mutual feeling of unshakeable faith.
World War II was over and impressive documents of peace were ceremoniously signed and tucked safely into various vaults. From my cozy living room and cheerful dinette overlooking a restful and well-cared-for lawn in Marion, Pennsylvania, the future looked very promising for a bit. Then, slowly and steadily the Cold War began to take shape.
My thoughts turned to the whys and wherefores of all the dissension in this world, a world that has so much of everything to offer. To my simple mind the answer was that wars are inevitable so long as men will not know their fellow men at close range and from early childhood, before prejudice, suspicion, and hatred have taken hold. Just as simple, then, it seemed to me that the solution lies in prevention, rather than cure.
It was then that the sharing of toys among children around the globe took on a special significance for me, as I became firmly convinced that with a beginning such as this—and the intervening years filled with continuing exchange of material blessings, thoughts, dreams, and experiences—minds must blend into signatures of genuine purpose, laying the groundwork for a truly harmonious peace. How often we expound a conviction on pure theory and then see it explode in action. Thus, I very thoroughly followed through here and was happy to find that my expectations were extremely modest.
The reactions of the children, both to giving and receiving, and the effect that these had on their elders, have more than justified my faith in their instinctive wisdom and in their importance to the world. Now more than ever, I feel secure in the faith I gained as a little child, that if I give freely of myself I will never lack in happiness.
There the creed of Elizabeth Heller of Marion, Pennsylvania who has put a simple little idea to work in a big way.