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Contents

Previous books published by John Wiley & Sons in the This I Believe series, edited by Dan Gediman, John Gregory, and Mary Jo Gediman:

This I Believe: On Love

This I Believe: On Fatherhood

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To Margot Trevor Wheelock, who was responsible for This I Believe

Introduction

In the early 1950s, prominent American newsman Edward R. Murrow and three colleagues came up with a novel idea: to ask individuals to write their own personal credo, a story of the rules by which they lived, in six hundred words or less. Then they asked each person to share that philosophy for living by reading his or her essay aloud on national radio. The reason was simple: at a time of uncertainty about the future, when matters of belief divided our country and the world, Murrow felt that broadcasting a daily personal reflection on one’s guiding principles would help listeners find answers to their own questions about living.

At its foundation, writing a This I Believe essay is about declaring one’s own personal philosophy of life by telling a story about how those beliefs were formed. When people strip down their beliefs to their core principles, they might find that the longest-lasting beliefs are those based on a moment when something they have learned stays with them forever.

A life lesson is one of those defining moments—a moment that teaches us something that we remember and carry forward. A life lesson, and the story behind it, is something we feel has altered us, great or slight, and after that moment we are changed. A simple observation becomes a beacon that offers guidance, direction, or meaning—and a foundation for living.

The world’s religions, of course, have stories of life lessons at their core—love your neighbor, treat others as you wish to be treated, know thyself. And we also glean instructions for living through classic children’s fairy tales and folklore handed down through generations. Even movies and video games of today teach us that taking risks is the only way to get ahead and perseverance is a virtue.

So life lessons don’t necessarily have to be lived in order to be learned. Reading or listening to the life lessons of others can give us insight into their experiences, and we may reflect on how we might integrate that wisdom into our own lives. Indeed, we have heard from many people over the years who have told us that after listening to a This I Believe essay on the radio or reading one in a book, they find they believe that, too, and it alters or augments their own personal credo.

Although some of these stories are certainly different from your own experience, there may be a life lesson at the core that will resonate inside. You may not be a roller derby queen or a physician, a corporate executive, or a homeless person, but you might just find you have something you can learn from their stories.

In this book, you’ll find ponderings on life’s big questions, such as “Why am I here?” and “What is my place in the world?” There are beliefs in the importance of saying hello, saying thank-you, and saying “I forgive you.” And there are revelations on the importance of listening to your inner voice and taking responsibility for your actions.

Some writers tell stories of making lemonade out of lemons, loving one’s enemies, and putting beliefs into action. There are also lessons on the kindness of strangers, neighbors, and friends. And there are reflections on the resiliency of people—living through cancer, depression, or an accident and coming through it with their spirits not only intact but perhaps even stronger and more enriched as a result of what they experienced.

In this collection, you’ll also find that wisdom isn’t always a product of age. Some essays are written by those with several decades of life experience, while others have been written by teenagers. While older writers tell of lessons learned and tested throughout a lifetime, younger writers speak from a newly forged, and equally powerful, perspective.

This book is for the bedside table or the student’s backpack. It might be read a little bit every day, or all at once. Either way, we hope it will be read over and over, with dog-eared pages and notes in the margins. And we hope that you, after reading it, will be moved to write your own statement of belief.

The Power of Hello

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Howard White

I work at a company where there are about a gazillion employees. I can’t say that I know them all by name, but I know my fair share of them. I think that almost all of them know me. I’d say that’s the reason I’ve been able to go wherever it is I’ve made it to in this world. It’s all based on one simple principle: I believe that every single person deserves to be acknowledged, however small or simple the greeting.

When I was about ten years old, I was walking down the street with my mother. She stopped to speak to Mr. Lee. I was busy trying to bull’s-eye the O on the stop sign with a rock. I knew I could see Mr. Lee any old time around the neighborhood, so I didn’t pay any attention to him. After we passed Mr. Lee, my mother stopped me and said something that has stuck with me from that day until now. She said, “You let that be the last time you ever walk by somebody and not open up your mouth to speak, because even a dog can wag its tail when it passes you on the street.” That phrase sounds simple, but it’s been a guidepost for me and the foundation of who I am.

When you write an essay like this, you look in the mirror and see who you are and what makes up your character. I realized mine was cemented that day when I was ten years old. Even then, I started to see that when I spoke to someone, they spoke back. And that felt good.

It’s not just something I believe in; it’s become a way of life. I believe that every person deserves to feel someone acknowledge their presence, no matter how humble they may be or even how important.

At work, I always used to say hello to the founder of the company and ask him how our business was doing. But I also spoke to the people in the café and the people who cleaned the buildings and asked how their children were doing. After a few years of passing by the founder, I had the courage to ask him for a meeting. We had a great talk. At a certain point I asked him how far he thought I could go in his company. He said, “If you want to, you can get all the way to this seat.”

I’ve become vice president, but that hasn’t changed the way I approach people. I still follow my mother’s advice. I speak to everyone I see, no matter where I am. I’ve learned that speaking to people creates a pathway into their world, and it lets them come into mine, too.

The day you speak to someone who has their head down but lifts it up and smiles, you realize how powerful it is just to open your mouth and say, “Hello.”

Former University of Maryland point guard howard white is vice president of Jordan Brand at Nike. He founded Believe to Achieve, Nike’s motivational program for youth, and he wrote a book by the same name. Mr. White lives with his wife, Donna, and his daughter, Mandy, in Lake Oswego, Oregon. He is proud to note that Mandy is a two-time All American at the University of Oregon.

The Art of Being a Neighbor

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Eve Birch

I used to believe in the American Dream, which meant a job, a mortgage, cable TV, credit cards, warranties, success. I wanted it and worked toward it like everyone else, all of us separately chasing the same thing.

One year, through a series of unhappy events, it all fell apart. I found myself homeless and alone. I had my truck and $56.

I scoured the countryside for some place I could rent for the cheapest possible amount. I came upon a shack in an isolated hollow four miles up a winding mountain road over the Potomac River in West Virginia.

It was abandoned, full of broken glass and rubbish. When I pried off the plywood over a window and climbed in, I found something I could put my hands to. I hadn’t been alone for twenty-five years. I was scared, but I hoped the hard work would distract and heal me.

I found the owner and rented the place for $50 a month. I took a bedroll, a broom, a rope, a gun, and some cooking gear, and I cleared a corner to camp in while I worked.

The locals knew nothing about me. But slowly, they started teaching me the art of being a neighbor. They dropped off blankets, candles, tools, and canned deer meat, and they began sticking around to chat. They asked if I wanted to meet cousin Albie or go fishing, maybe get drunk some night. They started to teach me a belief in a different American Dream—not the one of individual achievement but of neighborliness.

Men would stop by with wild berries, ice cream, truck parts, and bullets to see if I was up for courting. I wasn’t, but they were civil anyway. The women on that mountain worked harder than any I’d ever met. They taught me how to use a whetstone to sharpen my knives, how to store food in the creek, and how to keep it cold and safe. I learned to keep enough food for an extra plate for company.

What I had believed in, all those things I thought were the necessary accoutrements for a civilized life, were nonexistent in this place. Up on the mountain, my most valuable possessions were my relationships with my neighbors.

After four years in that hollow, I moved back into town. I saw that a lot of people were having a really hard time, losing their jobs and homes. With the help of a real estate broker I chatted up at the grocery store, I managed to rent a big enough house to take in a handful of people.

There are four of us now in the house, but over time I’ve had nine people come in and move on to other places from here. We’d all be in shelters if we hadn’t banded together.

The American Dream I believe in now is a shared one. It’s not so much about what I can get for myself; it’s about how we can all get by together.

Eve Birch is a librarian in Martinsburg, West Virginia, where she still works with the homeless while also running a small construction business that provides day work for needy neighbors. Two stories Ms. Birch wrote about her life in the shack are featured in the anthology The Green Rolling Hills.

A Kind and Generous Heart

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Christine Little

I learned my belief from my son. I believe in selfless giving.

Eight years ago, my thirteen-year-old son, Dustin, became very ill with a heart enlarged to double its size. The medical term, as unimportant as that is to a grieving mother, was cardiomyopathy. For several months Dustin lived on life support as we were forced to stand by and watch him wither away. While his friends were out playing baseball, flirting with girls, and sleeping in their own beds, my son was in a hospital bed, attached to a machine that kept his heart beating. As a mother, my first reaction after crying was anger, and then I played the bargaining game: “Take my life for his, Lord. I’ve lived my life, but he still has so much to do.”

People all around me were praying for a heart to become available, but it made me so angry and confused because I knew for that to happen, someone else’s child would have to die. How could anyone pray for that?

I still remember so clearly the morning we got the call that there was a heart. As we stood in Dustin’s hospital room watching them prep him for surgery, we experienced the true definition of bittersweet. His dad and I, seemingly in unison, realized that at the precise moment that we were standing there with so much hope and so much love, another family somewhere was saying good-bye. We knelt down together and cried, and we prayed for them and thanked them for giving such a selfless gift.

To our amazement, just ten days later, Dustin got to come home for the first time in many months. He had turned fourteen in the hospital, and at such a young age he had received a second chance at life. Over the next two years he got to go to high school, learn to drive, and have his first girlfriend. He got to spend time with his family and be in the great outdoors, which was where he truly loved to be. He put his brand new heart to good use volunteering at the homeless shelter and helping the elderly. He also became a very devoted Christian young man.

Dustin’s new heart failed him when he was sixteen. A tragedy, yes, but we have to see it as the miracle it was. We received two precious years with him that we would never have had without organ donation. We have more pictures, more memories, and a great satisfaction in knowing that he was able to experience some of the most exciting times and milestones in a teenager’s life.

When he died, as difficult as it was for us, we knew that it would be Dustin’s wish to give back. His eyes went to someone who wanted to see. Someone who, perhaps, had never seen the faces of the family they loved so dearly. I believe that one day I will look into the face of someone else’s son or daughter and I will see those sky-blue eyes looking back at me—the evidence of selfless giving.

Christine Little is a circulation clerk at the public library in Bettendorf, Iowa, where she lives with her three other children, a dog, a cat, and a very mouthy parrotlet. In her spare time, Ms. Little enjoys reading, writing, and relaxing on the beach with her family.

Make It Do

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Patricia Anderson

The simple life I live comes easy for me. It’s a family tradition. I remember listening, as a small child, to stories my parents told of surviving the Great Depression—tales of the deprivations they endured and the sacrifices the family made. My father was lucky to have a job, but he walked twenty-six blocks from his home to his office to save a nickel in carfare. My mother stopped putting sugar in her coffee, and she learned to cook without meat. My sister wore mended clothes to high school. And they say my grandmother counted the lumps of coal put into the furnace each day. It was a time of staying close to home and learning to live with what you already had and being thankful for whatever that might be.

When I was growing up in another time of economic hardship, World War II, there were more sacrifices to be made. My father went for years without a new suit. Mother still had no sugar for her coffee, and we were, by then, vegetarians. My sister went without nylons, and I wore hand-me-downs to elementary school. We had no tires for the car. And so, once again, we stayed close to home and “made do.” It seemed the lessons of the Great Depression served us well during wartime. And they serve me well today.

My mother made a little painted plaque to hang in our kitchen that spelled out this philosophy for living. It hung right above the drawer where we saved string and tinfoil.

Use it up.

Wear it out.

Make it do.

Or do without.

This is how I live. Today I have a small mobile home with a tiny yard. I cut the grass with a rotary mower, and I grow vegetables in a nearby community garden. I walk, use public transportation, or carpool. And I reuse or recycle just about everything.

There are many people in this country who enjoy a life free from money worries. But not all. Poverty and desperation exist in America. And poverty is rampant in the rest of the world. Here at my home in Oregon, my motto is “I live simply, so others may simply live.” My mother’s words of wisdom still guide my choices today.

I believe my small efforts to protect the planet, save scarce resources for others, and enjoy what I am fortunate to have will make a difference. Small efforts on my part can make a big difference to someone else.

Patricia Anderson is a retired social worker, aging hippie, part-time writer, and knitting addict who moved from the Ozarks to the Pacific Northwest to be closer to her children and grandchildren. The author of a book of essays called Down Home Musings, Ms. Anderson lives in Wood Village, Oregon, with her two Labradors and one kitty.