This I Believe

Millen, Herbert E.


  • Judge Millen describes how, despite his experience as a judge with the bad side of people, he still maintains an optimistic belief in the overall goodness of people, and while he still becomes discouraged and impatient with prejudice, his religion gives him comfort and support.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. The test of a good judge lies not in his legalistic knowledge alone. The honorable Herbert E. Millen, judge of the Philadelphia municipal courts, has to be something of a philosopher as well in executing his duties as a jurist. Here, against that background of experience, he gives his personal convictions.
I find that a courtroom is a place which constantly taxes one’s beliefs in life and humanity: The boy who robbed a service station knew it was wrong, but he did it anyway. The mother who abandoned her children in a cold flat while she went to a dance was sorry, but she would probably do it again.
The list is endless, the misdeeds and misfortunes crowded into a court calendar often seem to make a mockery of the things we have been taught to regard as virtuous and good. Nevertheless, I am something of an optimist. I still believe that man is basically a positive creature capable of great things beyond himself.
It is ironic, perhaps, but it usually takes a disaster to bring out the best in people. Invariably in a flood or famine or in midst of war, we become a little more human, a little more brotherly toward our immediate neighbors. That proves, I think, that a potential of decency exists in us, but the constant strain of living can easily obscure that potential.
People are fallible and weak. When I was a boy, I remember there was a rocking chair in our house I kept tripping over. Every time, I would turn around and give it a vicious kick. Once, after I had nearly broken my foot, I realized that I wasn’t hurting anybody but myself. I think it is important to discover and admit one’s own imperfections then it is easier to understand and endure them in somebody else.
Inevitably, I am sensitive to prejudice. I appreciate, now, that prejudice is a childish thing, as senseless a reaction as kicking a chair, but it does exist. It is a cause of artificial differences which separate people. However, these differences are worn down as people come to know each other.
Strangers thrown together come to know themselves for what they are, not for what they thought they were. It has been my observation that no matter who they are or where they come from or what they look like, people do respond to kindness and understanding. Therein lies my belief that an operable brotherhood of humans, while still a long way off, can be achieved if we can train ourselves to think and act first of all as human beings, not just as members of a certain group, race, creed, or even nationality.
There is no use denying that I sometimes become impatient and discouraged at the slowness of progress along these lines. When I do, I am frank to say that I find support in my religious beliefs. There is
too much lip service being given to Christian ideals these days, and that applies both inside church and out. But I have yet to find a sounder code of ethics and behavior than the Sermon on the Mount, or a more reassuring message than the 23rd Psalm. When I come across a familiar passage in the Bible, it is like getting a letter from my mother when I am away in a strange place. It is a friendly and recognizable message, and it makes me feel calm and warm. I cannot analyze all the reasons for this, but that does not bother me. The experience of comfort is no less real, and I need it in order to face the harshness of reality.
You have heard the beliefs of Judge Herbert E. Millen who happens to be the first Negro in the history of the city of Philadelphia to be elevated to the bench. He is president of Philadelphia’s Mercy Douglas Hospital, a Trustee of Lincoln University his alma mater in Chester County Pennsylvania, and a member of the General Counsel of the Presbyterian Church of the United States. An impressive roster of activities but more impressive still perhaps is the fact that he is an instance where a man and his community have both risen high enough to clear the artificial barriers of prejudice, which, as Judge Millen says, too often keep people from working and living harmoniously together.