Tag Archives: respect

albert schweitzer: reverence for life

the other day i found a little post on resonant enigma’s about reverence. these words here are inspired by this; in fact,albert schweitzer it’s a slightly rewritten excerpt of a paper i wrote quite a few years ago in a course on environmental philosophy. here it is:

my great-aunt mathilde had lots of books, but two fascinated me particularly: a coffee-table book with the title the serengeti must not die by one of the grandfathers of german environmentalism, richard grzimek, and another one, also with lots of photographs, about albert schweitzer’s life and work in lambarene in equatorial africa. somehow the two are inextricably connected in my memory; what i realized just the other day is that they were both books about ecology.

it was this ecological aspect that moved me the most a few years later when, now a nine-year old, i saw a movie about albert schweitzer. it began with a re-enactment of little albert setting out to shoot birds with a slingshot on a beautiful spring sunday when suddenly the ring of the church-bells changed what he saw: those sparrows were sitting there in the tree, peacefully, chirping away – he had no business killing them, they were not there for his amusement, they were there in their own right, a beautiful manifestation of life.

albert schweitzer vowed never to kill an animal again, unless he needed to. and i, seeing this, was in awe, touched deeply by the magic of the transformation that took place for that little boy.

albert schweitzer – doctor, missionary, theologist, bach scholar, philosopher, organ builder, organ player, fundraiser, father and husband, not to mention nobel peace prize winner – was a typical dead white male. well-meaning as he may have been, he is a symbol of colonization, of white europeans patronizing africans, pressing upon them the dubious western values of rationality and progress. as a missionary, he also wanted africans to forgo their natural animistic religions and “superstitions”, to become civilized christians and pray to a foreign white god who doles out love and punishment according to a system that must have been quite incomprehensible to most of schweitzer’s prospective converts.

two very different perspectives on albert schweitzer. i would like to retain the first one. i would like to think that while he was indeed a patronizing patriarch, ruling quite autocratically over his little kingdom in lambarene, schweitzer also offers a philosophy of radical ethics that can inform us all. this philosophy is best summarized as “reverence for life.” in his book with the same title, reverence for life, he says

the ethics of reverence for life makes no distinction between higher and lower, more precious and less precious lives … how can we know what importance other living organisms have in themselves and in terms of the universe? … to the truly ethical man, all life is sacred … he makes distinctions only from case to case, and under pressure of necessity, when he is forced to decide which life he will sacrifice in order to preserve other lives. in thus deciding from case to case, he is aware that he is proceeding subjectively and arbitrarily, and that he is accountable for the lives thus sacrificed … [he] stamps out life only from inescapable necessity, never from thoughtlessness. he seizes every occasion to feel the happiness of helping living things and shielding them from suffering and annihilation.

this taste of schweitzer’s philosophy is rounded out by his famous illustration:

the farmer who mows down a thousand flowers in his meadow, in order to feed his cows, should be on guard, as he turns homeward, not to decapitate some flower by the roadside, just by way of thoughtlessly passing the time. for then he sins against life without being under the compulsion of necessity.

reverence, sacredness, thoughtfulness, empathy, protection … interestingly, schweitzer never dissects exactly what these concepts mean. rather, as in the above quote, he gives many examples of how this worldview may be translated into everyday life and supplements this with glimpses of the circumstances in his own life that accompanied and motivated him to develop his philosophy.

there is an emphasis on emotional, personal and particular (as opposed to unemotional and universal) values and their expressions, for example:

the ethics of reverence for life is also thought not to be ‘reasonable,’ but irrational and enthusiastic. it marks out no intelligently determined boundaries for the sphere of obligation but places upon man the responsibility for all life which is within his reach and compels him to extend help to it.

however, schweitzer is far from endorsing irrationality on all fronts. what roles do reason, rationality, rationalism and their related concepts play for him then? as we have seen earlier, schweitzer was keen on ridding “primitives” of their superstitions. this he extends to his own faith, christianity, which he demands must be as accessible to reason as any other philosophy. furthermore, as can be seen from the metaphor of the farmer and the flowers, deliberate – rational – actions as opposed to thoughtless ones are central to his philosophy of reverence for life. taking all this into account, i think it could be said that schweitzer sees reason as a tool but does not subscribe to rationalism.

yet another important aspect of schweitzer’s philosophy is his rejection of anthropocentrism (i.e. that humans are crown and center of life on earth). he makes it very clear that there should be no hierarchical distinctions between different forms of life. if we did make distinctions, he claims, we would invariably make humans the standard against which life forms are to be measured and in this hierarchy would arbitrarily decide which life forms “are worthless and may be stamped out without its mattering at all. this category may include anything from insects to primitive peoples”.

comment aspirations

australian postage stampi love all your comments, people! one of the things i had hoped for in my goals for this year was to have more conversations on this blog, and i think that’s happening. thank you so much!

so with this in mind, i thought it’s time to throw together some comment guidelines. not because there are any big problems – actually, i can’t believe how few comment problems we have here on this blog (none of the trolls like me??) – but because with increased number of comments, i’d like to have a tool to manage any upcoming glitches.

here is what i propose:

last year, i wrote two posts on appreciative communication and improving on silence, both about comments in the blogosphere and beyond. taking the ideas in those posts, here are my personal aspirations for commenting:

  • comment with kindness and respect
  • listen carefully to others in order to understand their perspectives
  • take responsibility for my words
  • keep criticism constructive
  • respect diversity and be tolerant of differences
  • keep a balance between self-interest and the interests of others in the conversation
  • remember truth!
  • improve on silence: make the comment meaningful

yes, these are aspirations – meaning that i strive towards them but cannot guarantee i will always fulfil them 100%. when i don’t, i’m open to moving closer to them, and open to people pointing out to me that i could do better.

while i don’t expect commenters to have the same mindset, when i choose to challenge, edit or delete a comment, i propose that i point to these aspirations.

an example would be something that has been happening a bit lately. i’m getting more and more traffic from people who appear to be using mass commenting software. this is an interesting grey area. while i have no problem with people commenting here who also want to drive traffic to their sites, i’m not excited when that seems to be the sole motivation. in that case, i want to point out that i will either delete the comment or edit those areas that are glaringly promotional without adding much to the conversation.

practically, this means that i find it preferable when people state their names or their blog names when leaving comments, rather than calling themselves “lose weight now!” or some such thing.  similarly, i’m not fond of seeing bold face in a comment when i get the feeling that it’s done for promotional purposes.

then there are controversial topics like sex trade or the use of police force. i definitely want to invite passionate comments – but when it comes to name-calling or generally disrespect, that’s where the buck stops. if there is a problem, i think the first line of defense would be to point out that i’m uncomfortable with a comment, and why. if that doesn’t work, i’d like to reserve the right to edit or delete, with a preference for editing. i don’t like the idea of totally deleting a comment unless it’s obvious spam.

you are my commenters. what do you think? any – well, comments? additions?

(a little comment on the back-end of this post: it’s st. patrick’s day today, so phew,
i’m glad these are green birds! and what a nice coincidence:
the image is by
©2008 gareth taylor.
go to his profile, what he says there goes perfectly with this blog post)

blog conversation: dealing with bad work experiences, part 2

yesterday we started a discussion of bad job experiences – part of a blog conversation i’m having with jacob share from the job mob.

so yesterday we set the scene – an awful, awful work environment with a boss or co-workers who make your life miserable.

what can you do about it?

here are the first steps back to career health that i’ve helped some clients take:

phase I – resign

  • if you’re still in that horrible environment and you’ve tried a few things to make it better – get out. if your boss or abusiv coworker walks like a monster, talks like a monster and quacks like a monster – guess what, she’s a monster! (well, probably not – but then you’re not his therapist; it’s not your job to help bring out the angel in that person) get away from the job, even if it’s going to cost you a few weeks’ worth of wages.

phase II – recovery

  • once you’re out of that environment, do whatever you need to do to bring your mental and physical health up to speed. if this takes you a few weeks – so be it. dedicate yourself to it. i’ve seen too many people say, “oh no, i can’t afford to go away for a few days/join a gym/catch up on my sleep because i need to look for another job.” jumping immediately back into the labour pool without replenishing your resources hugely increases your chances at landing yet another bad job.

phase III – resources

  • figure out what your values are, especially your social values. your values are a resource; something that helps you live well. most people who find themselves in difficult work environments don’t use this resource very well. questions are, what role does respect play, and how can you tell you’re respected? what type of personal boundaries do you need? which of your values are non-negotiable?
  • make an inventory of your assets. what skills, experience, knowledge, talents and attitudes do you enjoy using at work? in this phase, it’s really important to focus on that. never mind what you’re not so good at (i bet your old boss was very good at pointing that out) – what are you good at? what makes your heart sing?

let’s hear it from you – have you had bad jobs? did you recover from them? what were your first steps towards a better work environment?

i’m looking forward to what you, gentle readers, have to say about it, as well as jacob’s reply. in future posts, we’ll also talk about the last three phases: research, re-apply and results.

(go here for the next instalment)