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Plea for an open mind

This summer I made a new friend in Ira Glass. It’s a bit of a one sided friendship, as Mr. Glass does most of the talking.

Courtesy ricky.montalvo/Flickr

Courtesy ricky.montalvo/Flickr

Before this summer, talk radio had been something my parents put on in the car on long road trips when they got sick of the Backstreet Boys, and I would often drift off to sleep with Carl Kasell or Terry Gross talking about something I didn’t care much for. Like wine or banking, acquiring a taste for National Public Radio has made me feel like a “real” adult. But unlike wine and banking, NPR and “This American Life” in particular, makes me think about my life in new ways, expanding my horizons and challenging preconceptions. It’s been one of the better additions to my life since graduating from high school.

I listen to episodes from the archive while I drive a Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts Transit Authority [PVTA] bus, which means I’m going through four or five episodes a week. Some of them are just entertainment and are then forgotten, but some stick in my mind, following me around long after they have passed my eardrums.

Yesterday I listened to one titled “This I Used to Believe.” The show is a compilation of several stories based around beliefs once held dear that have since withered into doubt. But the program begins by discussing another radio show on NPR titled “This I Believe,” which is based on an Edward R. Murrow series from the 1950s. This series consists of essays sent in from listeners across the country outlining exactly what the title implies. The “This American Life” episode begins with Glass discussing with the producer of the current “This I Believe” the exact problem that first comes to my mind when confronted with this concept.

“I had a lot of really strong beliefs about stuff when I was a kid,” Mr. Glass explains. “…I like had a religious phase, and then I had a very strong, like, atheist phase and then I had a very political phase…then, just like, I got older and I saw that things seemed more complicated than the way that I’d believed them. And when I poll myself, I’m like, what do I believe in? Well I believe that listening to the radio in the car is the best place to listen to the radio. I’ve got that. But that doesn’t seem like it’s worthy of your series.”

Because I’m listening to the radio and it sounds like he’s talking just to me, I’m sitting there going, “Yes, Ira, this is exactly my problem.” Then people give me funny looks because I’m talking to the radio.

Our twenties seem to be a time of great philosophical debate, as long as you’re in with the right people.  I suppose our whole lives should be a never-ending philosophical debate, but at this age we’re encountering many ideas for the first time and understanding many complexities in new ways. And as these exciting questions and theories are processed, we develop some very certain and loud opinions about them. Then, should we be so lucky, we have a few beers and yell at each other.

Okay, maybe that’s not a universal experience. But the feeling of revelation that occurs so often at our age leaves behind a sense that maybe, for the first time, we can be totally sure of something. This can be followed by a crushing sense of defeat and hopelessness that there is no truth in this world and if there is such a truth it is about as likely to be found as the sock lost in the dorm drier freshman year. Yes, universal, unwavering truth is lost in the ether with single socks and sets of keys and the stuffed walrus named Wally who once shared my bed before embarking on a strange and terrible journey to the land of missing childhood relics.

What do I believe? I’m with Glass, there’s no easy answer to this, at least not when it comes to the big questions. Maybe there’s some solace in the little things. I believe Dick van Dyke’s performance in Mary Poppins is one of the most joyful ever captured on film. I believe that a sandwich is better when someone else makes it for you. I believe chemical-heavy bug spray is the best thing you can bring camping in New England. And I believe I will always love dogs a little more than I love humans. Mostly I believe that anything I believe today may completely change tomorrow, and I believe I’m totally okay with that until I’m not.

There’s a moral in here somewhere about not having unflinching, lifelong beliefs that cause strife and hardship because you cannot let them go. But that seems irrelevant to us now as we struggle to define those beliefs to begin with. There’s a terror in realizing you might simply not believe in anything. Then there’s relief when you find that might not be a bad thing.

This is not a pitch for apathy. It is more a plea for an open mind. Morality is kind of mushy, which means sometimes there is a need for something solid to hang on to for dear life. But maybe, at least at our age, the best thing to do is just float around for a bit. Or sink into the murky depths. Whatever works for you.

There is one more thing that I  believe: public radio is totally awesome.

Victoria Knobloch is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at vknobloc@student.umass.edu.

 

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