A Philosophy to Live by Is a Healing Thing

Listen: Listen to Cromwell's Essay

Actor, producer and director John Cromwell was acclaimed for his work in the theater and movies. He directed some 40 films including Of Human Bondage, The Prisoner of Zenda and Dead Reckoning. Into his 80s, Cromwell starred in Robert Altman's The Wedding. He is the father of actor James Cromwell.

This essay aired circa 1952.

When asked to state my belief, it occurred to me that it was time to acquaint my older son with what I had discovered about the matter. And that perhaps if I wrote a letter to him about it, I might best answer this request. My older boy is fourteen.

Dear Jonathan,

When I was a young man just out of school starting to earn my living, my father began writing letters to me full of good counsel and the wisdom of his experience. His letters were written out of love and great anxiety, the desire to acquaint me with certain truths and thereby spare me some — perhaps just one or two — of the mistakes he had made and now saw so clearly.

Any true philosophy, I'm sure, evolves from so many varied experiences. It is made up of such an infinite variety of things heard and seen and felt, that you might spend years thinking about it before you found the proper words to help others understand it. For me, there are several things I believe, deeply, for they evolved slowly out of my experience without my being aware of it.

We do a great deal of talking to ourselves, haven't you noticed? Somewhere along the line, it occurred to me it might be worthwhile to get to know this other fellow I was forever talking to. I might, for one thing, begin to get along with him better. And then, he always seemed to know more about me than I did about him, and that struck me as a great disadvantage to me. So I decided to become better acquainted with this other fellow. And so, I began to know more about myself.

One of the first things I discovered was that I did not like to be fooled. I had had that experience when that other fellow had fooled me, and it caused me no end of embarrassment. And, too, I saw other men who were being fooled and didn't even catch on, and I realized how much harm it did them and the world they were trying to live in.

I saw that one of the first things I must insist on in this new acquaintanceship was complete and relentless honestly. That was the only way I could ever know where I stood with this other fellow. And of almost greater importance, it was the only way I could ever know where I stood with other men, with the world I was to live and work in. Every man is liable to find himself, at some time, in a situation where everyone else disagrees with him. That is when he must know that fellow he talks things over with — has to know there is no compromise in him — so that when this fellow tells him he is right, it hardly matters what anyone else says.

After I believed in this step in the relationship, it didn't take me long to see that I might have a very hard time deceiving anyone. Not that I wanted to, of course, quite the contrary. But the stresses of living are sometimes rapid and sometimes heavy, and very often insinuating and plausible. Your mind can take countless turnings to satisfy desires and appetites. At that point, because he knows you so well, this other fellow won't let you respond to anything but the truth — stark and unadorned.

Now in closing, Jonathan, let me say that the discovery of a philosophy to live by is a healing thing. It brings its discoverer about as close to achieving happiness as it is possible to get. This won't mean much to you for a long time. That it someday may is the fervent hope of your affectionate father.

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