This I Believe

James, William F.


  • William James describes how an experience during World War II gave him a belief in his dependence on God and an appreciation for life, and how he strives to be sensitive to others' beliefs and avoid speaking unkindly to them.
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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. William F. James is a young man in his thirties who sells automobiles in St. Louis, Missouri. A lot of men get so wrapped up in their businesses that they have no time for anything else. This is hardly the case with Mr. James. A Lieutenant Commander in the Naval Reserve he saw enough active duty during the war to earn him the Purple Heart, the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, and a recommendation for the Navy Cross. In civilian life he is perhaps best known as the founder and president of Boys Town of Missouri.
This he started from scratch, copying Father Flanagan’s Famous Boys Town in Nebraska and doing it so successfully that the citizens of Missouri support the project on a voluntary basis. James’ work here has earned him a Freedom Foundation Award. He has been honored by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Congress. What sort of fellow is he? Bill James reveals himself in his beliefs.
It was during a period when I was supposedly killed in action that I realized the worth of life itself. In a conversation with the survivor of the ship on which we had both been serving, as we waited to be rescued from the water, the point was brought out that worldly things—money, prestige, power—all were helpless in this vast sea of darkness, oil, and cold.
Only the Great One above knew of our presence. Only He could save us. We were helpless. The soul gift which we possessed was our life…with other lives waiting for us at home.
I believe now, as I did then, that I must merit my right to this great gift of life, and that understanding this I must do the things necessary to justify this gift. I have been asked why I work and drive so hard. I can only say that I must live as I live, and when I can no longer live as I do and as I believe, then I wish to be dead.
Above all, I enjoy people—people from every walk of life, regardless of color or creed. I enjoy knowing them all. And I believe that each of these individuals should have the right to have respect shown to him for his feelings and beliefs.
I feel that I have benefited most in the past few years from my Naval service, for it was during this period of time that I learned the meaning of the word “tolerance.”
Prior to the War, I would often criticize people, maybe for what they were or perhaps for their actions. Today I realize that there is a reason behind the motives of each individual. So often, my own wife claims that I am oversensitive. I do not believe that this is true, but I realize that the little things that one says so often greatly affect others. In the learning of tolerance, I feel that other people are sensitive, and such people should be protected by both what I say to them, and by my treatment of them. I am a Catholic, and my closest friends during the War included Masons and Jews.
Yet, we found so much in common.
I have little axiom that I have attempted to live by in the past several years: Not an unkind word to any man except in a just admonition. I have come to believe in life, that we all have some sort of cross to bear, whether it be sickness or disability, a personal matter, physical unattractiveness, perhaps a parental problem, or even a difficult marriage. And I further believe that time heals almost everything either by our becoming accustomed to the disability or personal problem, or by our determining in the final analysis that perhaps we, ourselves, are to blame.
I believe above all that there is a just God, and that He will judge me not on what I have done or on what I have accomplished. Rather, he will judge me on my understanding, to the extent that He has given me the mind to realize and know what I can accomplish, what I can do, and to know right from wrong. Thus, and only thus, will He judge against me if I lack in my accomplishments, if I fail Him. This I believe.
That was William James, young St. Louis businessman and civic leader, who has worked out a strong pattern for purposeful living.