Antidote for War

Burman, Ben Lucien


  • Ben Burman describes his beliefs in the value of kindness, the importance of striving for artistic excellence, and the utility of humor as an anecdote to pretension and tyranny. Audio also contains advertisement for "This I Believe" book.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Ben Lucien Burman has been compared to Mark Twain as an interpreter of the people and the atmosphere along the Mississippi. His novel, Steamboat Round the Bend, is probably his best known as it became Will Rogers' most successful motion picture. Here now are the personal beliefs of Ben Lucien Burman.
I became a philosopher early. I had to become a philosopher. I was rather badly wounded in the First World War at Soisson, France, when I was 22, and as a result, I was flat on my back for a long time. It was either get a philosophy, or crack up.
My code of living is simple. It consists of three parts: 1) never be cruel; 2) always be artistic; 3) never lose your sense of humor.
Number one, I don't believe, requires much explanation. Never be cruel means, of course, always be kind. I believe that kindness is the natural human instinct, not cruelty. I have no illusions about humanity. I know its faults, its frequent blindness, its capacity for making terrible mistakes. But my work as a writer takes me among all kinds of men and women, often the very rough and the very poor. Everywhere, I have found generosity and nobility men who would have gladly given their lives for me, because I had done them some slight kindness.
The vast majority of human beings will do the basically good thing if they are given half a chance.
By the second point in my code, always be artistic, I mean that whatever I do, I try to do with as much grace as possible. If I write a book, I want to make it as beautiful as I can. If I were a shoe maker, I would want to make shoes the same way, as perfect as possible. In our madly commercialized and mechanized world, we have lost our sense of the beautiful. I believe we need beauty in our lives just as much as we need food on our dining room tables. A world where beauty flourishes is a happy world, a world at peace.
The third part of my code, as I said earlier, is never lose your sense of humor.
I don't like pomposity, I don't like stuffed shirts. I'm glad I was born in a small town. It's a wonderful antidote for smugness.
I remember years ago when I had a little success in New York with one of my first novels, there was the usual round of autograph parties and literary lunches, and I was feeling rather pleased with myself. About this time, I happened to go back to my hometown in Kentucky, and I saw an old fellow I'd known as a boy standing on the street corner. He looked me up and down a long time and remarked lazily, "How are yah, Benny? You been away a while, ain't yah? Yah still teachin' school?" That reduced life to its proper proportions.
I was over in Germany not long ago in the ruins of Berlin, and a reporter asked me to give his paper a thought for the day. That was a bit of an order for me, who had been in two wars against the Germans and had very definite physical souvenirs from both. I reflected on what I could tell the Germans under these circumstances, and then I wrote, "When all the peoples of the world remember to laugh, particularly at themselves, there will be no more dictators and no more wars."
Those were the personal beliefs of Ben Lucien Burman. His is one of the outstanding statements which appear in the new This I Believe book, now at your bookstore.