Norman Cousins: A Spokesman for the Human Race

In this interview, author Norman Cousins discusses the need for global governing institutions and more human-oriented approaches to education and health care.

| November/December 1984

  • Norman Cousins
    In his long and productive career, Norman Cousins has been an author, diplomat, professor, and humanitarian advocate.
    Photo by Steve Keull

  • Norman Cousins

Whether Norman Cousins' life has involved editing the pages of the Saturday Review (which he did for 30 years) ... writing 17 books ... going abroad on presidential missions ... negotiating for the release of two cardinals from Eastern Europe for Pope John XXIII ... meeting with such legendary public figures as Pablo Casals, Winston Churchill, Albert Schweitzer, Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Mahatma Gandhi, Adlai Stevenson, Nikita Khrushchev, Buckminster Fuller, and John F. Kennedy ... heading surgical relief projects for victims of Nazi medical experimentation and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima ... providing food and medicine for thousands of starving Biafran children ... helping to establish public television in the United States ... heading a task force on an environmental program for New York City ... setting up U.S/US.S.R. cultural exchange programs ... serving on the Medical Advisory Board of the Veterans Administration hospital ... playing golf, tennis, or the piano ... exercising his considerable photographic skills... helping to cure himself, as he did in 1964, of a usually fatal collagen illness with the help of — among other things — massive doses of vitamin C and laughter (the experience he later chronicled in his bestselling book Anatomy of an Illness) ... using similar techniques to recover from a massive heart attack in 1980 (which he described in his most recent book, The Healing Heart) ... or serving, as he now does, on the faculty of the Medical School at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), he has always striven to get, in his words, "the most and the best out of whatever may be possible."

His strong belief in the often untapped potential of humanity and his confidence in the indomitable human spirit — as well as his ability to pass that belief and confidence on to others — have become known in medical circles as Norman's special "dose of medicine."

Associate editor Sara Pacher and photographer Steve Keull were privileged recently to spend two very pleasant hours with this compassionate and courageous man in his office in the Brain Research Center at UCLA.

"I came away, "Sara remarked later, "with a subtle feeling of excitement, and a degree of hope for the world that I haven't experienced in a long time. After all, as Mr. Cousins says, `We are not being called upon to rearrange the planets in the sky or to alter the composition of the sun. We are called upon to make decisions affecting our own welfare. The only price we have to pay for survival is decision."'



PLOWBOY: In your book Human Options you wrote: "Belonging to a nation, man has nations that can speak for him. Belonging to a religion, man has religions that can speak for him. Belonging to an economic and social order, man has economic and political orders that can speak for him. But belonging to the human race, man is without a spokesman."

If you were that spokesman — and I've long considered you one of our best — what would you say should be done to make the world a safer and happier place for both ourselves and those who'll come after us?






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