by Kelsy Armstrong
IFCNR Executive Director
Animals, Nature and Albert who?
I am not proud to admit this, but before joining IFCNR, I had very little familiarity with Dr. Albert Schweitzer much less his deeply moving vision of how each of us should approach one another and all with whom we share the Earth.
Oh, what I have been missing all these years!
I highly recommend that everyone take a few minutes out of even the busiest of days and read Animals, Nature and Albert Schweitzer edited and commentated by Ann Cottrell Free. It’s a slim little volume, only 65 pages complete with photos. I guarantee when you finish, your thoughts and approach to life will not be the same.
So who is Albert Schweitzer?
He’s a man whose words on every topic – ethics, happiness, how we treat ourselves, animals, and others – capture one’s soul and bring inner peace.
Albert Schweitzer was born in 1875 in the Alsatian village of Kaysersberg. Much like another historical figure, at age 30, Schweitzer turned from personal accomplishments (he was by then an acclaimed organist, pastor, theologian, principal of a seminary, and holder of two doctorates) and entered a life of service to others. He became a physician and set off for Africa.
One look into his eyes in any of the iconic photographs that portray various moments of his life – whether sitting on a porch with a pelican, cradling or examining sick African infants, or at his desk with his cat – reveals he was not a selfish man. He was a man of conviction, a man to trust and believe.
“Reverence for Life” is his core message. It guided his every word and deed. It’s also one that needs to be impressed upon humanity if we are to make the world a better place, or perhaps, the place it should be but for the pettiness and perfidy of we humans throughout history.
“A man is ethical only when life, as such, is sacred to him, that of plants and animals as that of his fellow men, and when he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help.” ~ Albert Schweitzer
Albert Schweitzer’s words are simple and direct. Yet they have a profound influence on the many questions and conflicts that lingered in my mind for years. They also capture the importance of all that I hope to accomplish, with much help from those around me, through IFCNR.
As a young physician, Albert Schweitzer knew the human crisis existing in Africa as he set off to serve. What his African experience taught him was that animals too were going through their own crises as well. Those crises continue today.
“As the housewife who has scrubbed the floor sees to it that the door is shut, so that the dog does not come in and undo all her work with his muddy paws, so religious and philosophical thinkers have gone to some pains to see that no animals enter and upset their system of ethics.” ~ Albert Schweitzer
This quote found not even halfway through this book resonates deeply with me. Schweitzer does an excellent job sharing his thoughts behind reverence for life, including why certain societies like the European one he was raised in, act the way they do. He wonders why the philosophies of India and China, filled with compassion for animals and nature, are lost among Europe’s many cultures.
Albert Schweitzer brought to the world’s attention the constant struggle with the paradoxes of the man-animal-nature relationship in a way no other philosopher had done before. As Ann Cottrell Free stated perfectly, “his philosophy has shaped attitudes, led to passage of laws and, in many ways, has helped to transform the second half of the 20th century.”
The question raised in my mind is where are these attitudes now that we are in the 21st century?
The point of Ann Cottrell Free’s book and this column is how do we keep Albert Schweitzer’s message and spirit alive? That goal couldn’t be more pertinent for all of us living in this fast-paced and technologically connected new world today.
To quote a mentor and friend of mine as captured in IFCNR’s manifesto, “Today, the questions that beg answers are simple: Has grievous harm to the environment done in pursuit of economic gain and human comfort come to an end? Has it decreased? Are the planet and its inhabitants better off, worse, or the same?” I think we all know the answers to these questions whether we like to admit it or not.
From the slaughtering of elephants for their ivory that still occurs to the oceans being overfished and used as dumps for the world’s garbage, the evidence shows that the state of this planet and its inhabitants has only gotten worse. The world needs Schweitzer now more than ever.
Relating these same questions to our modern day and to more societies than just those in Europe, my thoughts just raced all over the place. Whether it be from getting so caught up in the hustle and bustle of every day life and trying to make ends meet or not, the mentality of society tends to be “do not disrupt the herd.” People tend to not like change because, let’s face it, change means more work. And when life is already so demanding, who has time to change the way they live and think?
The beautiful thing about reverence for life is that it prompts us to keep each other alert to what troubles us and to speak up and act unafraid TOGETHER! The responsibility for standing up for the animals, environment, and humanity must be done by all of us together. Schweitzer referred to this as “some sort of help.”
IFCNR’s motto recognizes that humankind is “a part of nature; not apart from nature,” and I don’t think it could be said any clearer. I urge people of all ages, races, genders, social classes, you name it, to read this book. There is no longer time for just discussing the distraught state our planet is in; there is only time for action and solutions. That action and those solutions start with all of us, “us” as in all humans on this planet, coming together and having reverence for ALL living things on this planet.