One day, as I was walking through the stacks at the library, I looked up and saw “Philosophy” on the section map. I had never read a philosophy book or a book written by a philosopher in my life. I think I was intimidated by the prospect and afraid that I wouldn’t understand a word. I’ll be honest, whenever I saw someone reading a book about philosophy (which wasn't often), I instantly, and unfairly, thought “show off.” They must be pretentious and aloof to be reading it.
The fox and his sour grapes have nothing on me.
For whatever reason, on that day in the library, I decided to wander down the philosophy aisle, but not before glancing around to make sure nobody saw me venturing in. As I glanced at the titles, I felt exactly the way I feared I would - intimidated. Titles like; Meditations: The Thoughts of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy for the Future, and Sacred Geometry: Philosophy and Practice made me nervous. Then I saw a book entitled This I Believe. I picked it up and there on the back cover I read “If I have one operating philosophy about life, it is this: ‘Be cool to the pizza delivery dude; it’s good luck,’” and I smiled and checked out the book.
This I Believe, based on the NPR radio show, is a collection of 80 essays by a range of authors, from the famous to the unknown, from politicians and artists to construction workers and students. All 80 participants accepted an invitation to “write a few hundred words expressing the core principles that guide their life – their personal credo.”
I’m really don’t know if this would be considered a book on philosophy in the technical sense, but it was in that section of the library, and so to me, it counts.
There are so many things I loved about this book. I love that each essay is only a couple of pages. I could pick it up and read one or two if I was short on time, and I love that they are all so unique. Getting 80 different perspectives on the same question was fascinating and eye-opening. Each one was so personal, so intimate.
Some of the essays by “famous” people I found to be predictable, like Colin Powell’s essay entitled “The America I Believe In,” and “The Virtues of the Quiet Hero” by John McCain. Both were great, but after reading them, I felt like they were only giving us the answer they thought we expected from them. In contrast, while Gloria Steinem’s essay touches lightly on feminism, it’s actually about her belief that human development is a balance between nature and nurture.
Most of the writers I’d never heard of and those are the ones I more closely related to. People like me, doing their jobs, raising their families, and trying to make sense of their lives and the world they live in. Reading this made me realize that everyone is marching to the beat of their own drummer, and there is no ‘right’ way to do that. And even if my own beliefs don’t exactly match up with others, it’s okay. As long as we are trying to do our best and have values we live by, that’s what matters.
I’m not sure I’m ready for the musings of Marcus Aurelius yet, but I do know that I won’t be so afraid to venture back into the philosophy section the next time I’m looking for my next great reading adventure.