This I Believe
French, Paul Comly
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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. Paul Comly French is well known to the officials of some fifty countries as the executive director of CARE, the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe. He was born in Philadelphia, worked as a newspaperman, directed Pennsylvania’s Federal Writers Project, and organized the National Service Board, which formulated work projects during the war for conscientious objectors. After joining CARE in 1947, he initiated the now-famous CARE Food Package. Here now are the beliefs of Paul Comly French.
It is stimulating and humbling to try to put into words the faith by which we live. I suppose that with most of us, the private yardstick we apply to ourselves and our inner motives often stem from a fairly simple fact. I know that’s true in my case. It comes from two things my mother said to me as a child and repeated many times over.
At the time, her statements made little sense to me, but over the years they’ve come to have more and more meaning. “Paul,” she used to say, “You may be able to fool others, but you’ll never be able to fool thyself.” I’m a member of the Religious Society of Friends, and Friends believe there is an inner light, a part of God in every man.
And I think that mother was trying to make me understand that it was essential for me to follow the guidance of this inner light, this part of God that exists in each one of us, because failure to do so meant that I would not be living up to the best that I knew.
I think she tried to make me understand that men are easily fooled by a glib tongue and pretensions of grandeur, but that I, myself, could never really face myself or be satisfied unless I lived to the best that I knew. I think she tried to make me understand that at times it might be necessary, because of this inner urging, to do things and perform actions which might not be popular, but which I would know were right.
And secondly, she used to say to me that it was important to take my job seriously but never myself. I think she was also trying to make me understand the saving value of a sense of humor in the difficult times that I would face as I grew older. I have thought of these statements of my mother’s many times throughout my life, and I have come to see the wisdom that is hidden in them.
There is also, I think, a corollary to this philosophy: Human happiness comes from doing something that we believe is worthwhile and helpful to others. Human unhappiness, frankly, comes when we forget this very simple fact. I think that it is essential for our inner peace to feel that somehow, someway, we’re helping to make the world a better place for our children.
We get from life about what we put into it, and it seems to me as I grow older that we learn that happiness is within us and stems from the satisfaction we get from helping and sharing with our fellow man, of all races and creeds and nationalities.
I know little of theology and attach even less importance to it. Very often, it seems to me, theology only helps to confuse people about the simple faith that Jesus and the other great teachers and leaders have sought to give the world. A basic faith, at least to me, seems hard to find in the complexities of organized groups. But this simple faith of my mother’s has given me a conviction and a guide to life which I have tried—albeit not too effectively—to use as the basis of living and as the standard for the kinds of jobs I should try to do.
During the past seven years, I’ve had an opportunity, as the executive director of CARE, to visit more than sixty lands many times and to travel more than a million and a quarter miles. I have learned that human beings around the world are about the same in their desires and aspirations, and that by and large, they respond to the same stimulus of friendship and goodwill that we do here. More and more as I grow older, I am satisfied that the basic ideas—that “You’ll never be able to fool thyself,” and “Take thy job seriously but never thyself”—form a useful faith by which I can live.
That was Paul Comly French, executive director of CARE. Descendant of a long line of Quakers and reared in their tradition of service to others, his work to help stricken people has been recognized around the world.