I think the most profound influence in my life was my father. He was an inventor and a scientist with a most inquisitive mind. He loved and was greatly stimulated by the beauty and the design he found in nature. He believed in people and was himself a completely honest person. His sense of humor was keen though kindly and his energy was inexhaustible.
Once he was asked how he got the idea for the Maxim Silencer. He answered, “By watching the way water behaved when it went down a drain.” This simple statement opened up for me a whole realm of ideas which led to a firm belief that human intelligence need recognize no bounds; that through the use of our intelligence we will move progressively closer to an understanding of man and of the universe around us; that this knowledge will bring a closer harmony between man and his surroundings; and that this way lies the chance to make the world a better place to live in.
Then I remember sitting with him on the deck of his boat one night in early September. We were anchored in a secluded cove. The breeze was light and very salty. We could hear across a little strip of land the pounding of the surf. The stars were brilliant and every now and then a shooting star would streak across the sky. He was deeply interested in astronomy and he led my mind into unforgettable speculation as we explored the grandeur of that night. I think from this I came to understand that there must be law and order in our universe. There is design. Man can observe, he can learn to understand and he can apply. The secret is to apply in the interests of the common good; not for one or for a few; not to destroy but to build for all peoples.
My mother and father each had an acute social conscience. They believed that because good fortune had endowed them with better than average opportunity, they had a duty to perform in their communities. From this no doubt came my own conviction that I must give more than I receive and that a satisfactory life must be measured by its usefulness to others.
I remember the excitement engendered by the conversation in our home. All kinds of ideas were explored; all sorts of prejudices were challenged; penetrating minds were brought to bear on every problem of the day. I learned that each one of us has a right to his own beliefs, that prejudice perverts truth and that violence in the long run gains us nothing. From this understanding I moved into the belief that people everywhere must learn how to work together for the common purpose of the betterment of mankind.
I believe one of the greatest ideas of all times, one that is a compelling moral force, is the concept of the dignity and worth of the human individual. From this idea there develops a sense of devotion to the common good.
I believe that if we pull these rather simple but fundamental things together and tie them up with honesty and truth, there are no visible limits to the heights to which mankind can rise.
Mrs. Percy Lee was national president of the League of Women Voters.
Copyright © 2005-2018 This I Believe, Inc., all rights reserved. Please contact This I Believe, Inc., regarding reprints and permissions requests at https://thisibelieve.org/contact/.
The Common Good
A commitment to the common good isn’t just about giving back. It’s about looking forward and connecting who you are and what you can do to a greater purpose. We all want to live in a better world, but it’s not always clear where to start.
You will soon find that a Bowdoin education gives you the tools to start making changes in—and being changed by—the world at your door. You’ll discover professors who expand your ways of thinking and highly original courses that examine basic human challenges across cultures, genders, and generations.
Community-based courses and research can connect you with local agencies that will partner with you on real-world work. Leadership development programs will support you as you hone your citizenship skills in your own backyard or halfway around the world. Most importantly, you’ll have the example of hundreds of Bowdoin students who volunteer each week. You’ll see them organizing around recycling projects, human rights issues, campus matters and community needs — or taking on the world through service projects around the globe.
The Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good
The Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good is a hub of resources and programs located at the heart of campus, in Banister Hall. It’s a place of openness and activity, where students, faculty, and staff can come together to address important issues through community-based teaching, learning, research, and service. Appointed Faculty Fellows help shape the educational vision of the McKeen Center and connect its goals to the academic program, while student leaders help align its activities with issues that are most current and compelling to student interests.
The Center works with over 200 local, national, and international partner organizations, to offer opportunities for you to discover or deepen your talents, passions, and ideas for the benefit of society. Learn more.