'This I Believe II'

Americans from all walks of life share their personal credos in 500-word essays.

This I Believe II Edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman Henry Holt and Co. 268 pp., $23

This book opens with a formidable challenge: “What would you say in five hundred words to capture a core principle that guides your life?”

Before you try to answer that question, you might want to read some of the 75 essays collected in This I Believe II: More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women. Many will leave you breathless. And those that don’t astonish may simply humble you.

This book (which is a sequel to a collection published last year) has its roots in a radio program hosted by Edward R. Murrow in the 1950s called “This I Believe.” Murrow asked well-known Americans to share their deepest beliefs in a brief statement.

In 2005, National Public Radio revived the concept with Jay Allison as host. Unlike Murrow, however, Allison speaks with people from all walks of life, including a wide range of ages and experiences.

Many of these speakers articulate beliefs “forged in hardship” – sometimes horrific experiences of tragedy, illness, or loss. Yet over and again they affirm the good to be gleaned – by those willing to recognize it – from the largest and the smallest lessons of human experience.

There is for instance, Terry Ahwal, who grew up in the occupied West Bank deathly afraid of Israeli soldiers. Ahwal, who now lives in a mixed Jewish-Arab family in Detroit, says that she believes in “fighting fear.”

Chicago attorney David Buetow, who credits his chocolate Labrador, Duncan, with changing his life by teaching him unselfishness, writes, “I believe in my dog.”
Singer Mary Chapin Carpenter, who was touched by the kindness of a grocery clerk while battling depression, states, “I believe in what I learned in the grocery store.”

These essays could also be called “The Remarkable Courage of Ordinary People.” There is the hostage who saw the humanity of his captors. There is the secretary who loves her job in the face of the world’s scorn. There is the teen who excels at school although it makes him unpopular.

The book’s purpose, says Allison, is to “counter ... divisiveness” and “raise a flag for thoughtfulness.” These essays do that but they also do something more: They speak to the best in all of us and leave us in awe of the unheralded virtue that surrounds us every day.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor.

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