Eskimos Know Best

Carlson, William S. (William Samuel)

  • William Carlson, president of the State University of New York, describes how his experience of living with an Inuit family in Greenland disproved his belief of belonging to a superior race, and states his beliefs in the brotherhood of humanity, the virtue of patience, the need of self-evaluation, the unity of family, and the method of science. Contains a short advertisement for This I Believe book ... read more
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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. William S. Carlson is president of the State University of New York. With time out for wartime services in the Air Force, he has devoted his life to education as a teacher and administrator. An important factor in shaping his beliefs was the experience of long expeditions to Greenland as a student of geology. Here is Dr. William S. Carlson’s creed.
The lure of the Arctic is of little concern to a generation that looks upon flights to the Pole as a daily routine, and dreams of exploration in terms of Buck Rogers, space ships and rockets to the moon. Many of the values that come from roaming to the far ends of the earth have been lost. On the other hand, the years I spent in the primitive north, satisfying a youthful curiosity, gave my life a sense of direction.
During one long, lonesome winter I lived and traveled with an Eskimo family of five, the head of which was a noble character named Andreus. Their honesty, sincerity, coolness in the face of danger, thoughtfulness for my comfort and welfare, and generous help in attaining my scientific objectives, roused my respect and deep liking.
The members of the family were not only amiable, there was about them a refinement of body, manners and mind. They were a closely knit unit; the relationship between Andreus and his wife Ewa was a kindly and sympathetic one, while the two children were cherished by both. Parental affection was reciprocated by the children. They loved one another in a helpful, tender, but not sentimental way. Nor were the aged and infirm neglected. Andreus’ mother, an ancient crone, lacked nothing in the way of comforts and was treated considerately and respectfully. Here, as elsewhere, I learned that it is the civilized man who could emulate the so-called savage to advantage.
I found they knew infinitely more than I did about life and living.
They knew when to think, when to eat, when to play and be joyful, in just amount. Above all, they saw that all others got a fair chance to use their gifts to the full. As heathens they practiced the Christian virtues. They were not just Eskimos, but people I knew in their strengths and weaknesses, friends and neighbors and others who were indifferent to me, but in any case a part of my life. Among them I soon came to the realization that I do not belong to a superior race after all; it was so only in my thoughts. And so, during the long months I lived their life, eating their matak and seal meat, cramped in a hut, using their boats and dog sledges—as thoroughly cut off from the twentieth century as they—they taught me enduring lessons in social conduct: the ideal of democratic brotherhood, and the sanctity of the family.
Living in semi-isolation, I expected to be lonely and was half surprised at finding myself lonely so little of the time. Over-long absence from loved ones teaches patience and makes one introspective. Patience, a virtue in a citizen, seemed to demand of me fantastic concessions; introspection taught me the need of systematic self-evaluation and the worth of the method of science in the ascertainment of truth.
The brotherhood of man, the virtue of patience, the need of self-evaluation, the unity of family, the method of science—these are beliefs I hold most dearly. In my present work, education, I advocate these beliefs as a way of life that can be grasped and adopted by the humblest citizen.
Finally, I believe that not only educators, but all who live in the realm of ideas, owe it to themselves and their fellow men to deal with the positive in modern life and point out those numerous paths of hope by which the world’s men and women may work themselves out of their present unhappy predicament. I am confident we will. I look to the future with hope and eagerness for I believe the spirit of man is in the image of God.
Those were the personal beliefs of William S. Carlson. They were chosen from the beliefs broadcast in the past two years for inclusion in the new This I Believe Book, now at your bookstore.