A Reading Guide for the Common Reading 2016
This website contains questions for you to consider as you read This I Believe, a collection of short essays which comprise the Common Reading for the entering Bates Class of 2020.
Each question is followed by a list of the essays that touch on the subject matter of the question, either directly or tangentially. We’ve provided links to audio recordings of one essay for each question at the This I Believe website.
If you want to share your responses to the questions below with your classmates before Orientation begins, post your own questions about the book, or if you want to respond to comments that your classmates have posted, please join the conversation!
As you read, we ask you to question and challenge not only the beliefs offered in each vignette, but also the compilation as a whole. Do you see any unstated values and beliefs in the title and selection of essays–what they include or leave out ?
What Do You Believe About Yourself?
Do you know what your beliefs are? Do you have, at least tentative ideas about who you are and what you think about: politics, religion, art, culture? Where do your beliefs come from? Why do you believe what you believe? As you think about these questions, you might want to consider the essays, “A Grown Up Barbie,””Happy Talk,” “The Virtues of the Quiet Hero,” “The 50-Percent Theory of Life,” “The America I Believe In,” “There Is More to Life than My Life,” “Tomorrow Will Be a Better Day,” “Growth that Starts from Thinking,” and “There is No Such Thing as Too Much Barbecue,” “Everything Potent is Dangerous,” ” How Do You Believe in a Mystery,” “Creative Solutions to Life’s Challenges,” “The Benefits of Restlessness and Jagged Edges.”
How Does Your Behavior Reflect Your Beliefs?
Do you walk your talk? What are the kinds of things you do or habits you practice that grow out of your beliefs. As you think about these questions, you might want to consider the essays, “Be Kind to the Pizza Dude,” “Remembering all the Boys,” and “Good Can Be as Communicable as Evil,” “An Athlete of God,” “Seeing in Beautiful Precise Pictures,” “The Power of Presence,” “Why I Close My Restaurant,” “We Are Each Other’s Business,” “The Artistry in Hidden Talents,” “My Fellow Worms,” “Always Go to the Funeral,” “Finding Prosperity by Feeding Monkeys,” and “Our Noble, Essential Decency.”
Have You Had A Transformative Experience That Explains A Belief That You Hold?
Sometimes we experience things that profoundly effect how we understand the world; the death of a loved one, a serious accident, or a moment of connection with a stranger. Have you had such an experience? How has it shaped your beliefs? You might want to consider the essays, “In Giving, I connect with Others,” “The Power of Naming Things,” “A Morning Prayer in a Little Church,” “A New Birth of Freedom,” “The Power of Love to Transform and Heal,” “Getting Angry Can Be a Good Thing,” “The Making of Poems,” and “The People You Love,” as you consider these questions.
Have Your Beliefs Changed?
Can you think about an important matter about which your beliefs have changed? Perhaps it’s a question of politics, religion or racial relations. Perhaps it’s an belief about culture practices; music or sports for example. How and why have your beliefs changed? You might want to take a look at the essays, “An Honest Doubter,” “Have I Learned Anything Important Since I Was Sixteen,” and “Leaving Identity Issues to Other Folks.”
How Would You Describe Your Religious Beliefs?
For some, religious beliefs grow out of family practice. For others, religious beliefs derive from personal experience. For some, religious beliefs are unquestioned principles. For others, religious beliefs generate doubt and interrogation. Some people hold no religious beliefs at all, either as a result of reflection or indifference. As you think about this question, you might find it helpful to consider the essays, “A Daily Walk Just To Listen,” “The Elusive Yet Holy Core,” “Science Nourishes the Mind and the Soul,” “Natural Links in a Long Chain of Being,” “Talking with the Sun,” “Living Life With Good and Elegant Treeness,” “The Light of a Brighter Day,” “The Power of Mysteries,” “Life Grows in the Soil of Time,” “Jazz is the Sound of God Laughing,” “Testing the Limits of What I Know and Feel,” “Goodness Just Doesn’t Happen,” and “There is No God.”
How Would You Describe Your Political Beliefs?
For some, political beliefs are related to party affiliation. For others, political beliefs arise from moral or religious committments. From where do your beliefs about politics arise? You might find it helpful to read the essays, “An Ideal of Service to Our Fellow Man,” “The Bright Lights of Freedom,” “The People Have Spoken,” “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” “A Balance Between Nature and Nurture,” “When Ordinary People Achieve Extraordinary Things,” and “A Willingness to Work for Solutions,” as you consider these questions.
Is There A Difference Between Belief and Truth?
In his introduction to This I Believe, Studs Terkel distinguishes between beliefs and truths. How do you think Terkel defines each of these terms? Do you accept his definitions and distinctions? Why or why not? You might consider the essay, “In Praise of the ‘Wobblies,” “Free Minds and Hearts at Work,” “I Agree with a Pagan,” and “There is Such a Thing as Truth,” as you consider these questions.
What to Do With Divergent Beliefs?
Typically, people who live in the same community share many beliefs. On occasion, however, the beliefs of members of a community may diverge. Think about the community you’ll be joining in your First Year Center at Bates. What beliefs do you anticipate you will share with most members of the community? Do you have beliefs that you anticipate will diverge from the majority’s? What do you think is the best way to address situations of divergent beliefs? You might consider the essays, “The Connection Between Strangers,” “The Joy and Enthusiasm of Reading,” “The Rule of Law,” “Mysterious Connections That Link Us Together,” “The Real Consequences of Justice,” “When Children are Wanted,” and “A Duty to Heal.”