Norman Cousins Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Quest for Peace: Conversation with Norman Cousins, 9/12/84 by Harry Kreisler

Page 5 of 5

Conclusion: The Responsibility of the Individual

One final question. Throughout your work, both earlier in the Saturday Review and the peace movement, and now, in your health work at the UCLA Medical School, there seems to be a common theme of the individual overcoming a sense of helplessness in the face of these problems, cutting through the complexity and overcoming the helplessness. Is that a fair way to see a common theme in your life's work?

I think so. I think that nothing is more dangerous in the life of the individual or the life of a nation than panic. Decisions made in panic are not good decisions, generally, and they don't take into account long-term aspects of a problem. It's a rush for the exits, and a rush to the barricades as well. In illness, one of the great enemies is panic. Someone becomes ill they think, "Am I going to die?" The unfair thing imposed by nature at that point is that panic is itself a disease and intensifies the underlying disease. But what is it that produces the panic? It's the helplessness that produces the panic. The fact that we don't know what to do about a problem makes us rush hither and yon. The same thing is true of a country. I think that the individual somehow has to get over a feeling of helplessness if the country is going to make responsible decisions. The individual in a free society does have a specific responsibility for participating in that decision-making process and for taking a vital role, because the nature of that society is that the individual holds the ultimate power. And if the people in a free society hold the ultimate power, then they must take part in those measures leading up to the exercise of that power. That has to be our hope: that we will liberate ourselves from helplessness, immunize ourselves from panic, identify the ways in which we can participate in the big decisions of our time. If this seems too tall an order, than I think we have to say that the hopes of Jefferson and Madison and Washington and Adams and Franklin were excessive hopes. I like to think that those hopes were not excessive. I like to think that those leaders created an instrument that will endure; but it will endure only as the responsibilities connected with it are accepted and realized.

Mr. Cousins, thank you very much for spending this time with us. And thank you very much from joining us for this conversation on "The Quest For Peace."

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