By Miriam R. Kramer
From the Vault
Books That Believe in Our Future
January can be dreary and anti-climactic after we make merry with friends and relatives throughout the holidays. This month will be electrifying, however, for those near Washington, DC and others worldwide. President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration promises to be a singular event that will attract millions to the metropolitan area. People will arrive from all over the country and the globe to attend parties, balls, and the event itself. Together we are turning a page in the American history book, and the world is eager to watch us do it.
Our president-elect was chosen partially because he mobilized millions of volunteers and voters through updating them on his positions and various developments via text messaging, e-mail, and online social networks. As an American of international heritage who spent time growing up overseas, his message consistently focused on the ways in which we are connected as Americans and as global citizens. It has been all too evident recently that we are profoundly dependent on each other’s wealth and environmental health. The Internet provides news and connects us globally and socially for entertainment and political purposes. It allows us space for instant and often inflammatory reactions to the media and other members of our online community. Therefore we proclaim our values to each other and our leaders in a sometimes bewildering cacophony of voices. Our president-elect believes that most Americans, and indeed most people, have certain values in common. In considering this concept, I wanted to focus on a few accessible books that concern the ideas we consider crucial to living our lives.
Renowned journalist Edward R. Murrow began hosting a radio series called This I Believe in 1951. During the five years that it broadcast, famous and ordinary people recorded brief speeches on the philosophies that guided their actions. Fifty years later, National Public Radio (NPR) decided to bring back the program. In 2006, NPR helped create the book version of This I Believe, collecting some of the most classic recordings from the 1950s series along with recent essays. Editor Jay Allison notes in his introduction that despite “the most pervasive information delivery systems in history, there is little place for the encouragement of quiet listening to the beliefs of others without rebuttal or criticism….This I Believe is interested not in what can be learned in a moment but over a lifetime.”
Famed physicist Albert Einstein shares one of my favorite beliefs from these books in saying “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious—the knowledge of the existence of something unfathomable to us, the manifestation of the most profound reason coupled with the most brilliant beauty.” He also professes “Alongside the development of individual abilities, the education of the individual aspires to revive an ideal that is geared toward the service of our fellow man, and that needs to take the place of the glorification of power and outer success.” When we celebrate this groundbreaking inauguration the day after we commemorate the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, let us hope that we can join our new president in focusing on the former, not the latter.