The 50-Percent Theory of Life A corn crop flourishes despite drought, while a marriage ends in divorce. Surviving life's ups and downs led NPR listener Steve Porter to believe that the good times and bad ultimately balance out.
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The 50-Percent Theory of Life

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The 50-Percent Theory of Life

The 50-Percent Theory of Life

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Unidentified Man #1: I believe in the power of love.

Unidentified Man #2: I believe that a generation of young people...

Unidentified Woman #1: I believe it deeply and sincerely.

Unidentified Man #3: I believe in the importance of passing this knowledge on.

Unidentified Woman #2: I believe that everyone wants to love and be loved.

Unidentified Man #4: All these add up to my belief in the dignity of the individual.

Unidentified Man #5: I believe in people.

Unidentified Man #6: This I believe.


On Mondays, our series This I Believe brings you statements of personal belief. We've heard from prominent leaders and thinkers, and today's essay comes from one of our listeners, a man who works in community relations for the Missouri Department of Transportation. Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON reporting:

Steve Porter just built a house on his great-great grandparents' farm in Cass County, Missouri. He says his life is as good right now as it's ever been and, moreover, that he's old enough now to appreciate that fact. He's learned, he says, that it's important not only to know that life has ups and downs but to know where you are in the cycle. Here is Steve Porter with his essay for This I Believe.


I believe in the 50 percent theory. Half the time things are better than normal, the other half they are worse. I believe life is a pendulum swing. It takes time and experience to understand what normal is, and that gives me the perspective to deal with the surprises of the future.

Let's benchmark the parameters. Yes, I will die. I've dealt with the deaths of both parents, a best friend, a beloved boss and cherished pets. Some of these deaths have been violent, before my eyes, or slow and agonizing. Bad stuff, and it belongs at the bottom of the scale.

Then there are those high points--romance and marriage to the right person, having a child and doing those dad things, like coaching my son's baseball team, paddling around the creek in the boat while he's swimming with the dogs, discovering his compassion so deep it manifests even in his kindness to snails; his imagination so vivid, he builds a spaceship from a scattered pile of LEGOs.

But there is a vast meadow of life in the middle, where the bad and the good flip-flop acrobatically. This is what convinces me to believe in the 50 percent theory. One spring I planted corn too early in the bottomland, so flood-prone that neighbors laughed. I felt chagrined at the wasted effort. Summer turned brutal, the worst heat wave and drought of my lifetime. The air conditioner died, the well went dry, the marriage ended, the job lost, the money gone. I was living lyrics from a country tune, music I loathed. Only a surging Kansas City Royals team, gone for their first World Series, buoyed my spirits.

Looking back on that horrible summer, I soon understood that all succeeding good things merely offset the bad. Worse than normal wouldn't last long. I am owed and savor the halcyon times. They reinvigorate me for the next nasty surprise and offer assurance that I can thrive. The 50 percent theory even helps me see hope beyond my Royals' recent slump, a field of struggling rookies sown so that some year soon we can reap an October harvest.

Oh, yeah, and the corn crop. For that one blistering summer the ground moisture was just right, planting early allowed pollination before the heat withered the tops, and the lack of rain spared the standing corn from the floods. That winter my crib overflowed with corn, fat, healthy three-to-a-stalk ears filled with kernels from heel to tip, while my neighbors' fields yielded only brown, empty husks.

Although plantings past may have fallen below the 50 percent expectation, and they probably will again in the future, I am still sustained by the crop that flourishes during the drought.

ALLISON: Steve Porter of Cleveland, Missouri, reading his essay for This I Believe.

Porter sent us his writing through our Web site,, and we hope you will do the same.

For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

INSKEEP: Next Monday, there's another This I Believe essay, on NPR's "All Things Considered."

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