Man Can Become Better

Schlesinger, Edmond R.


  • Edmond Schlesinger describes how World War II damaged his young belief in the essential kindness of humanity, but that he still remains confident that "man can become better."
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Doctor Edmond R. Schlesinger practiced law in Vienna, edited a newspaper in Paris, and escaping to America one jump ahead of the Nazis, has served here as a social worker, a researcher and statistician. He is now a professor of languages and humanities at the University of Louisville. This is what Dr. Schlesinger believes.
Thirty years ago, I was 30 then, I thought I knew quite well what I believe. I lived in Vienna at this time. The city was recovering from the first World War. Material and spiritual reconstruction went hand in hand. I assisted and I enjoyed.
I was brought up by my father in the belief in the inevitable progress of mankind. Yes, in 1922, the future of humanity seemed bright to me. When clouds appeared, I told myself: fulfillment takes a long time. I shall not enter the promised land—people cherishing the same ideas as I: religion. Alas, many hopes have been shattered since. The birds of visionary dreams did not arrive. Precious goods were destroyed. But the hard times had a healthy result.
I began to sift the chaff from the grain. I’m still at it, still an apprentice. My cocksureness decreased. The period of orientation had its pains and its elations.
Where do I stand today? I believe in kindness as a common denominator of all human beings. They may acquire only minute traces of this kindness, hidden deep under rocks of bitterness, disappointment, discouragement. But this kindness exists in everyone. I have lived in many countries. I have lived on two continents. I’m addicted to people. I indulge myself in seeing them, in speaking to them, in knowing them. Since I can remember, I’ve been eager to mix with people.
My various professions have enabled me to contact them out of the most different aspects. In view of my experiences, I believe man is the same everywhere, and there are neither perfect nor hopeless cases.
I don’t believe we are living in the best of all possible worlds. Nevertheless, I’m compelled to believe in this world, because I live in it. I’m compelled to believe in others, because to believe in myself alone is not enough. I may hope to improve when I am able to see improvement in my fellow man. Feeling for one’s fellow man is a privilege, as well as a responsibility. In Germany at the very end of the first World War, Leonard Frank wrote a book, “Man Is Good.” I’ve gradually softened this statement to: man can become better.
Again and again I’ve encountered their objection. Don’t you see? Does history not teach you that this earth is a wasteland and man develops only to devastate it more thoroughly? No.
A scientist at Cornell once said to me, “The more we know, the less we understand. How does research help mankind?” I answered, “In as much as research clarifies, it diminishes fear.”
Since the era of the caveman, man’s fear has diminished only in a tiny degree. But proportionately, man has become better. And I believe that humanity stands just at its threshold, and will wander the long, winding, arduous road toward light.
There the creed of Dr. Edmond R. Schlesinger of Louisville, Kentucky. When the old world collapsed about him he built himself a distinguished place in the new.