Affect the Farthest Star

Cleveland, Harlan

  • Harlan Cleveland describes his beliefs as "ideas that Im willing to do something about" and recounts the satisfaction he derives from helping others achieve basic needs such as justice, security, and a sense of achievement.
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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. Harlan Cleveland, now Executive Editor of The Reporter magazine, has a long and distinguished record of public service. Associated with the Mutual Security Agency, and its predecessor ECA, since 1948, he was MSA Assistant Director for Europe until this year. Here is Harlan Cleveland's creed.
What I believe is not some series of fixed principles, but rather a constantly changing set of ideas-ideas that I'm willing to do something about. If I were not prepared to do something about
them, they would be merely theories, not beliefs.
My mother repeated two precepts so often that we remembered them. "Never stop learning," she would say; and "Don't ever get the feeling you've arrived." So what I believe is mostly aspirations for the future.
It's hard to say whether the beliefs I now hold were cause or effect; before the war I chose to be associated with a program to help low-income farmers in this country; during and after the war I got into relief and reconstruction work in Europe and the Far East. In any case, whether cause or effect, this is what I believe: that I should do what I can to maximize the morale of the greatest possible
number of individual human beings.
Surely the most basic aim of social action is the morale, or sense of well-being, of the individual person.
As I see it, any individual's morale is measured by the degree of satisfaction of four basic wants. A man wants a sense of security, a sense of achievement, a sense of justice, and a sense of participation in the decisions that directly affect his own living and his own destiny.
My own sense of achievement is greatest when I feel that I'm doing something practical about these basic wants. The underlying belief here is that progress is natural and good, and practicable-a
relatively recent arrival in the history of ideas. It is combined with the very old Christian idea that the individual-not the family, or the group, or the State-is the important unit.
I have come to believe that even in our culture, steeped though we are in the philosophy of rationalism, there is both rational and instinctive evidence of God.
My son, almost since he has been able to talk, has been asking me unanswerable questions about infinity. He comes by it naturally. I have always been engrossed by two facts about the universe that seem to me self-evident. One is the remarkable degree of order that we are able to ascertain-in natural law, in musical harmony, even in the relations of one person with another. The other fact is the
interwoven continuity of everything and everybody with everything and everybody else. When I was very young I learned something I hope is true: that if I wiggled my little finger, it would affect the farthest star. Occasionally, when walking by myself, I would wiggle my little finger, just to keep that farthest star on the alert. What is true in space must also be true in time: what I do now will live on in its effect; what I am cannot be destroyed by death. The God of this orderly and continuous cosmos is also a personal God. The evidence here is that at the critical moments in his life a man in trouble instinctively prays.
I didn't learn this by going to church, even though I was a minister's son. When I was twenty-one I
spent a night on a damaged liner that was listing badly after being hit by a tidal wave, trying to ride out a hurricane in the middle of the Atlantic. Seated on a bunk, trying to hold rigid between my knees the broken neck of an elderly woman whose survival depended on me, I prayed for the first time without feeling self-conscious about it.
There the beliefs of Harlan Cleveland, Executive Editor of The Reporter magazine. He has been decorated for his international service by the American, Italian and Chinese governments.