This I Believe

Burchard, John E. (John Ely)


  • John Burchard admits his fear, and describes his belief that life cannot be lived in fear, and that the solution in the face of the current threats to "Western Civilization" is to embrace the diversity that America was founded upon, and to strive for union between world nations, despite such a union's newness and unfamiliarity.
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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. John E. Burchard is Dean of Humanities and Social Studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. An architectural engineer, he was Director of Research with Bemis Industries in Boston, then director of the Bemis Foundation at MIT. He has served on the National Research Council and the National Resources Planning Board. A consultant on library buildings for the UN, Yale and Princeton, he is the author of several works on housing structure and design. Here now is Dean John E. Burchard.
I am not a brave man. I have been scared in airplanes and in ships at sea, and sometimes in the dead of night when I have fancied an untoward noise in my own house. I have flattened myself in the street when the V1's went by. All these things could happen to me again. But I cannot live perpetually in fear.
The big bombs may come. The buildings and the structure of Western Civilization may crumble. But though we may die, it will not be the end of the world or of all civilization. And there are worse things than dying. It is more important how we live than how we die, and I believe it is impossible to live under the bed.
I believe in the political and economic arrangements of my country changing peacefully as the times require. I believe our greatest strengths have not been that we were the elect of God, which is untrue, nor that we were very lucky, which is true. I believe our primary strength does not rest either in our extraordinary industry or our technological skill--admirable as they are. I believe that what is wonderful about America stems from the wholehearted reciprocity, which permits us to live in harmony, and from the diversity of opinion and interest, which our people have encouraged in one another. Thus I believe in the unity of diversity and the nationalism which fosters regionalism, never suppresses it.
I believe we are neither impeccable nor self-sufficient. I have never seen an entirely hopeless country
or an entirely hopeless people. I have met unattractive individuals, to be sure. But I can find some of them on the next corner as easily as far away. Moreover I know of no other people, even the most primitive, who have not displayed some trait or accomplishment, which it seemed to me, my own people could profitably emulate. From this and from my beliefs in unity and diversity, and from my rejection of fear as a basis for life, I reach two simple conclusions.
First I believe that our tolerance of diversity among ourselves is threatened by our fears. I believe that we must work constructively not to succumb to those fears. I believe we must be braver about this question than we now are.
Second, the United States of America did not seem to make sense when they were established. The problems of world union or partial world union are still more thorny. But I believe such a union must be attained and to this end I have no fear of giving up some of my nations sovereignty. Such a union will require of us some substantial sacrifice--a little of pride, perhaps much of immediate welfare. I am not afraid to make it.
Of course this means that I believe there are no second-class races in the world, and that there is more than one noble faith by which to live. Of course it means that I am unafraid to trust the conduct of fellow citizens with slanted eyes or colored skins--even their conduct as it affects me. I can
accept that these people in such a union might sometime outvote me and initiate measures which I would not approve. This happens to me now in the United States and it works out well on the whole. But it can work for the world only when it is crystal clear that no citizen is second class.
I believe I must work steadfastly--if not spectacularly--toward these ends. And I pray, God, that there will be enough time. I believe the prayer will be granted.
There the beliefs of John E. Burchard, Dean of Humanities and Social Studies at MIT.