MELISSA BLOCK, host:
For our Monday series This I Believe, we bring you statements from people from all walks of life about the principles that guide their lives. Today our essay comes from the magician David Copperfield, who began performing professionally at age 12 and was recently named a living legend by the Library of Congress.
Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.
JAY ALLISON reporting:
David Copperfield's resume includes items which are difficult to verify by definition. For instance, it states that he has made the Statue of Liberty disappear and walk through the Great Wall of China. But his core belief has nothing at all to do with the ethereal realm of magic. It is instead commonplace and verifiable.
Here is David Copperfield with his essay for This I Believe.
DAVID COPPERFIELD reporting:
I believe in kindness. But it's hard to be kind. We're not trained for it. Kindness is for sissies, we learn that early. Nice guys finish last if they even get invited to the race. Kindness is taken for weakness, rube-ishness, stupidity. No one seems to respect the kind. They respect the killer. We're taught to value competitiveness, strength, cunning, Darwin.
I work in the entertainment business where kindness just never seems to be in. It's not macho. It doesn't sell tickets. In the movies, the hero never kills the bad guy with kindness.
But I believe that Economics 101 is right. The value of a thing is determined by its scarcity, which makes kindness spiritual gold.
I am writing these words a few weeks after my father's death. He was a fervent Republican. He preached an eye for an eye. He was a hawk. But he practiced kindness to everyone, including people he didn't know and people he knew too well. My father wanted to be an actor. He traded his dream for solid middle-class security, a beautiful wife and a son.
For my father, being kind was natural. He had a gift for it. I have to really work at it. I love competing and winning, conquest, not words you usually associate with kindness.
As I became successful, famous even, my father wasn't jealous. He basked in it. He and my mom came with me everywhere I toured and I'd always stop and introduce him to the audience. And he'd stand and bow. Afterwards, he'd sign autographs. I knew he loved getting the attention.
Only recently did I understand that he loved giving attention as well. He loved the chance to be kind to the thousands of people who came up to him. He drew strength and vitality from that chance to be nice. The chance to learn that gift was more than anything his legacy to me.
He showed me that kindness doesn't have to be dramatic. It can be very small. It's something that's not expected and that's offered absolutely gratis, no strings, like an act of friendship. Now the memories that hold the most peace for me are of kindness, of my dad offering it to strangers.
With my dad's passing, I've resolved to make life more about those moments. My dad taught me that what you do counts. For me, that has to be about being kind, despite the odds. I believe in kindness, plain and simple.
ALLISON: David Copperfield with his essay for This I Believe. We recorded him in his International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas.
Perhaps we can record you reading your essay about personal conviction at a venue of your choice. To find out more, visit our Web site at NPR.org. Or call toll free 888-577-9977 for more information.
For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.
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