This I Believe

Heubener, Theodore


  • Theodore Heubener describes how he came to believe that suffering had a purpose, either as the result of a person's transgression of the natural order of the universe, or as the basis through which one's character is formed.
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And now, This I Believe, a series of living philosophies presented in the hope they may help to strengthen and enrich your life. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Dr. Theodore Heubener, Director of Foreign Languages in the schools of the city of New York, is himself a product of the city's schools and colleges. He reached his present position by way of both teaching and administrative posts, and has written textbooks in French, Italian and Spanish along the way. His work as consultant for the State Department and invitations from foreign governments have taken him to Germany, France, Italy and Israel. Here is Dr. Theodore Heubener's creed.
Early in my youth, I was distressed by the amount of suffering which seemed to come to good
and bad alike. Socrates assured me that "No evil could befall the good man," but Shakespeare commented wryly, "There was never yet philosopher that could endure the toothache patiently." Indeed, I soon found that it was the lesser annoyances of life which upset me more than the greater tragedies, which could be rationalized.
Philosophers differ as to nature's attitude toward man, some considering it friendly, some indifferent, and some hostile. I believe it is favorable. Nevertheless, in the end we are obliged to submit to the acts of God, as best we can. We may not understand them, we may question them; but like Job, if we are wise we will recognize our own insignificance in the vast scheme of things. If, as Spinoza expressed
it, we can see events sub specie aeternitatis--that is, "'neath the guise of eternity"--a toothache will not seem such a colossal disaster.
Since this is, as I believe, an orderly and a moral universe, we are penalized, no matter how we regret them, for our derelictions. Learning from experience, we should be able to reduce our mistakes, as we grow older. In any case, suffering should strengthen our character. It unquestionably forms it. Unfortunately, excessive suffering may deform it. However, "whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth." One who has not suffered, I believe, is an incomplete character. The chastening process should lead to self-control. Menandar said, "The unchastened man is not disciplined." Nothing in my opinion is more
conducive to wholesome living than self-discipline.
It is fashionable nowadays to condemn restraint as causing frustration. Sacrifice and self-denial are definitely not the ideals of this age. Hence, the world is full of restless and unhappy people who are dissatisfied with themselves and with others. A sympathetic attitude and a readiness to cooperate will disarm all but the most aggressive opponent, I have found. We all act more on the basis of emotion than reason. Often the behavior of our fellows seems stupid or inconsiderate. However, since we are all human and subject to moods, it is silly to become embittered over the words and actions of most men.
Essentially, there are two attitudes one can take toward the follies of mankind: one can laugh at them
or weep over them. Personally, I believe there are occasions for laughter and occasions for tears. All of us are confronted almost daily by petty annoyances, thoughtless slights, discourteous remarks, disappointing setbacks. Many are entirely unintentional. The wholesome thing to do is to laugh them off. There is no better answer to a scowl than a smile, a kind word to a rude one, a generous action to a mean one. I'm always guided by the thought: Let me try to be a gentleman, even if the other fellow isn't one.
However, there are blows and disasters which cannot be laughed off. When they strike us, it is time if not for tears, at least for sober reflection. In committing our problem to a higher power, we will
gather strength and comfort and will be able to rise above the difficult situation. Laugh at the petty annoyances of life, pray over the serious ones--that is my rule. Humor and religion, I believe, are the most effective solvents for all our worries.
That was Dr. Theodore Heubener, Director of Foreign Languages in the New York City schools.