This I Believe

Trilling, Louis R.


  • Louis Trilling talks about how beliefs change, particularly as one changes, and what is important is that one does have beliefs to follow and that for one to be happy and content one should believe in something outside of oneself.
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And now, This I Believe, the living philosophies of thoughtful men and women, presented in the hope they may strengthen your beliefs so that your life may be richer, fuller, happier. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. The best teachers are those who never cease learning themselves. Professor Louis R. Trilling, who teaches English at the City College of New York, has traveled all over the world looking for the answers to life’s important questions. What has he found? Listen to him now as he sorts out from his experiences the things he believes in.
It would be presumptuous for anyone who has made as many mistakes as I have to state
categorically and dogmatically what he believes—or even to imply that his ought to be the belief of all others. The only thing I know about belief is that it is necessary to believe.
I believe that one’s beliefs should and do change as one progresses in life. As children, we believe what we are told—or we do not, as I did not. As adolescents, we are too prone to believe only in ourselves and to rebel, as indeed we must, from all we have known and been taught. Few of us, however, continue to question and seek much beyond that period. Those who do are lonely seekers or rebels who follow an inner light, which not many see or can follow. Such people may be honored as geniuses after death, but they are apt to lead wretched lives on this Earth.
I believe that one is most useful to his contemporaries—and happiest—when he believes in and is devoted to something beyond himself. He must, of course, believe in himself, first. But paradoxically, in order to believe in himself, he must believe in something or someone else. I have been happiest when I have done that.
I believe in talking to other people, all sorts of people, whenever and wherever I can, to see and to hear what they do and think, to learn from them and to match theirs with my own experiences and observations. When I can, I like to help others see what I have seen, to set someone straight who’s off the track, to save him difficulty or heartache. I like to do that, I think, mostly because it makes me
feel I am in a way repaying those who have done me good turns, that I am earning my salt, paying my passage through life. Like most teachers, too, I suppose I like an audience.
I believe that we stand essentially alone in life, that none of us is, or can be fully or even adequately, known or understood. One needs, therefore, a great deal of dogged courage, of inexhaustible, resurgent faith in the value, the significance of life.
I believe that life moves so swiftly, and we so swiftly move through it, that one rarely, if ever, gets a second chance. I have been lucky, for my own mistakes, and a misfortune in mid-career, compensated me, ultimately, with the good fortune of a second chance to prepare myself for life. I find it more an
adventure than I did even at 20, and I have—and greatly enjoy—a sense of living twice, of learning again and, I hope, better, some things I learned once but had forgotten, as well as many new ones.
I also enjoy sitting down and talking with my juniors, some of them my former or present students, on a basis of equality. I may sometimes shake my head sadly and think they are too eager to learn things the hard way, but I like their skepticism, and it helps, I hope, keep me young and growing, still.
All this I believe, and much more that I cannot even remember now. Yet, I suspect—indeed, I hope it—that if asked again in ten or twenty years, I may find that I believe in none of these things, though in many others. But, I trust, in one dominant fact: that I do believe.
That was Louis R. Trilling, a professor of English for the past thirty years and who, we suspect, has taught his students a good deal more than just lessons from books.