This I Believe

Gotesky, Rubin

  • Rubin Gotesky relates an experience of feeling part of yet aloof from the universe, and describes his belief that though isolation is an essential part of the self, his actions do matter and can help to change the world.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Doctor Rubin Gotesky is associate professor of philosophy at the University of Georgia. Educated at New York University, he has taught there and at Long Island University, Tulane and the University of Chicago. He is the author of a number of articles and is presently at work on a major book about social liberties. Here is what professor Rubin Gotesky believes.
One evening when I was about fourteen years old, I stood on the roof of a squalid Bronx tenement watching the stars, without apparent shift, pause, or shock. As if by a process of quick un-abrupt dissolution, the stars, the tenement, the noisy streets below, the lights, the roar and clatter of passing L trains, became a part of me and I of them. I was all that is or ever could be. Yet at the same time, I was not one with everything. I was different, unrelated, an incomplete, bitter, frustrated, envious being, hungry for things beyond my power, tortured with dreams beyond my capacity.
What did this strange experience mean? Had I experienced God and my true self for the first time?
If so, then I had experienced something incomprehensible and indescribable in the religious and philosophical language of Western culture. It required the marriage of Western science with Asiatic Zen Buddhism to produce an answer satisfactory to me.
I know myself to be an inalienable part of the cosmos but not as a consequence of its waft and woof. I change. I become other. And the illimitable gulf will ultimately swallow me. This is not a cause for despair but for inexhaustible joy. I recognize that my truth, my goodness, my beauty, because they are mine, are not necessarily the truth, the goodness, the beauty of the cosmos, or of others.
My self-growth, self-realization, has followed from acknowledging with equanimity and insight this fact: the community of attained human truth—goodness and beauty—is not a spontaneous gift. It is the labored product of millions of years of interacting human experience. To understand this, and to act upon it, is for me the deepest meaning of love, compassion, sympathetic communion with all living things.
Isolation—apartness—is an essential aspect of my life and for that matter, of everyone else’s. To run away from it is to run away from one’s self. To me, isolation is one of the essential ways of discovering one’s true identity and worth. It is often the crucial test of the meaning of one’s life.
My beliefs are not absolute. They are framed and channeled in the organs of my body and experience. Consequently, I derive my beliefs from fact, the evidence of experience, but without dogmatism. And I change them if possible for better ones when they are nullified by experience.
Nothing to me is inevitable—neither sin nor death, neither disease nor war. Adequate knowledge and power can make or prevent anything. Only ignorance and impotence are the twin roots of inevitability. Consequently, I believe that the world and I can always become better than we are.
Faith and progress are not futilities. They are potent forces in the world. But this is so on only one condition: that men do not make their own experiences into absolute laws to be imposed upon others by force or authority.
Those were the beliefs of Professor Rubin Gotesky of the University of Georgia. His interests, in addition to philosophy, which he teaches, are his family, literature and the violin.