Henderson's commentaries show mark of optimistic realist

A Different Accent, Michael Henderson. Richmond, Va.: Grosvenor Books. 133 pp. $5.50. Michael Henderson writes, quite simply, to change the way people live and think and thereby to make the world a better place. His approach is ``to share insights, and lessons, and attitudes, and hopes . . . gleaned as the result of contacts with very fine men and women all over the world.'' He knows many.

``A Different Accent,'' a collection of radio talks Mr. Henderson has given in Portland, Ore., fully meets the standards he has set for journalism.

The accent is indeed different. It's British and cultured and has been heard regularly on this side of the Atlantic for a little more than six years. But the special bond Henderson has formed with the United States goes back more than four decades -- to World War II and the blitz that shattered much of London.

To escape the bombing, many children were evacuated to the English countryside, others to distant parts of the British Commonwealth, and some to America. Henderson and his brother came to New England, where they were taken in by a family totally unknown to them and, as Henderson puts it, ``looked after [us] as one of their own'' for five years.

The experience instilled in Henderson a love for America (``I could recite the presidents of the United States but not the kings of England'') without in any way diminishing pride in his native country. But his perspective extends far beyond the two countries he is most intimately associated with. It is universal. His commentaries reveal a deeply rooted compassion for mankind in general, wherever they come from and whatever their ethnic background. He also exhibits a remarkable ability to see both side s of a situation, or, as he puts it in one of his pieces, to look at things from the ``other side of the hill.'' The result is opinions that do not come across as opinionated.

Henderson speaks on topics as diverse as the Fourth of July (``the American Revolution established freedom, not its subversion as so many revolutions have'') and ``Moral Rearmament'' (``There are no members, no dues. . . . It is a way of life''). He also offers insights into the character of journalists, Mohandas Gandhi, and the use of time (``The basic issue is to be sure you are doing what you are meant to be doing''). There is a constructive, practical approach to them all, and in every o ne the convincing message that morality is a source of remarkable power and strength in the individual. The we vs. they syndrome is one of his constant targets.

At times he questions the morality of those who promote highly moral causes. How is it, he asks, that the actions of many peace activists are frequently the opposite of peace-loving? When Christ Jesus said, ``Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God,'' he says, ``I form the impression that he was talking not about those who only demonstrated for peace but those who also lived a quality of peace in their own lives.''

Politicians can be replaced. ``That is the bottom line which really distinguishes democracy from dictatorship,'' he says. ``We may, as individuals, be no more moral than people who live under another system. But the ultimate test of how free our society is, how far we may trust our leaders, is that they submit to the ballot with regularity. We should never forget that great divide.''

Henderson the realist is also an optimist.

``I suppose,'' he says, ``that I do not get as depressed as some because I know of people all around the world who are working without bias and without blame for reconciliation and justice.''

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