Walking on the Path of Righteousness:
Anna Blishak Peschong
The foundation for Reverence for Life is action, and it is the responsibility of each living person to take a positive, dynamic step toward the betterment of all living things. By taking even a single step toward goodness, whether a small, careful step or a large, powerful stride, we have the ability to set into motion a chain of events that affect the many in a positive manner and, more significantly, may stimulate a positive reciprocation that has the potential to reverberate throughout the world. It is the realization that we must work, consistently strive for goodness that is the first of several simple but also difficult actions required to promote the principle of reverence for life. We cannot sit on the sidelines of life, existing idly as the world around us constantly lives, breathes, dies and is born again in its daily rotation. We must take action by summoning the courage and the strength to acknowledge that ours is a world brimming with life, life that is interconnected; it is our duty to think completely and clearly about that life around us and it is up to us, the most intelligent animals on earth, to act responsibly toward all other living things. We can look to the life of Dr. Albert Schweitzer for some suggestions on how we may live a life that promotes goodness; we can look to his life for the inspiration and the courage to take our own action, this in a time and place where complacency and apathy are gradually creeping into the consciousness of humanity. We can learn from his example of the benefits of celebrating the oneness we share as humans with each other and with other living things.
Dr. Schweitzers awareness of and action upon the common bond between all living things may have been established as early as his childhood. He grew up in an environment where he was exposed to the benefits of a community that was able to share its church between the two local religions. It was in his homeland and during his childhood that he developed an astute connection with nature and an appreciation of its power and beauty throughout his years of playing and traveling amongst the flora and fauna in his immediate surroundings. His parents provided a close-knit, loving home that may well have been an inspiration for promoting the oneness we share in the larger family of humanity and life.
It was also at a young age that Albert Schweitzer took action for something he felt at the core of his being was significant enough to stand up for. For what may have been the first time in his life, young Albert thought clearly about the consequences of a negative action he and his young friend were about to take by shooting their slingshots at birds; he concluded that such an action was wrong, and although he greatly risked disapproval, teasing and loneliness, he made his stand. By taking such action, this young child ultimately affected the behavior and thoughts of many by way of his actions at that time and later, including his retelling of the story. If a child can make a conscious, risky decision for the sake of goodness, we should all feel a sense of obligation to do the same for those beliefs we know, deep within, are crucial to the promotion of goodness.
Albert Schweitzer appreciated the ambition and heroism exhibited by Jesus. As we have noted, a particular verse from the Bible may have had an impact on the decisions made by Dr. Schweitzer throughout his life. This passage describes the instructions given by Jesus to his disciples to help those in need. Matthew 10:1-5: "He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness." The instructions Jesus gave them were, "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely you give." These words are not unlike the words of Albert Schweitzer when he spoke of reverence for life. It is the courage shown by Schweitzer and Jesus, two brave and dynamic men who are or can be an example to us today as we look to the means by which we can travel through lifes journey in a positive, productive way while considering the commonality we share in life and the universe.
Dr. Schweitzer has spoken of "the fellowship of those who bear the mark of pain." In this statement, Dr. Schweitzer made a very clear and distinctive point about the debt we human beings have or ought to have to one another. There is a connection between us all that may be easier to recognize than others: a connection founded upon suffering. How often do we hear or read about a community coming together to help others in need after a natural disaster or some other type of catastrophe? There is a willingness within people to reach out to others during times of need that we dont otherwise see very often. We spend so many hours in our offices, on the freeways, running errands, all the while not giving a second thought to the lives of a man in the car next to us on the freeway and the little old lady standing in an aisle of the local grocery store. When we are faced with tragedies and hardships such as the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City or the war being fought in Yugoslavia, there is a sense of coming together whether on the smaller scale of an individual family or on the larger scale of the family of humanity. We are less inhibited about reaching out and offering to help. What is it that opens our hearts and minds during these times of need? Why is it that we act upon these basic but profound principles only at select times? Why cant we have the desire, the compulsion to help our fellow man at all times, on a daily, consistent basis? Albert Schweitzer enlightens us to some possible answers to these questions by suggesting that "those who bear the mark of pain" have "a secret bond." He reminds us that pain is a lonely, debilitating entity that we all share in one form or another, to one degree or another. At some point in each of our lives, we are faced with pain, not one person is spared regardless of income, race or social standing; but if kindness, warmth and compassion are extended to those in need, the agony may be lessened, the suffering may decrease, the burden is shared and our lives altogether may be enriched. There is also the suffering of species we consider below ours that needs to be lessened, from the abuse and neglect of animals to the destruction of lands and waters. All life has a will to live: this reminder can serve as a tool to promote the preservation and the enrichment of the living things surrounding us.
Dr. Schweitzer suggested that upon relief of our own pain, we must reach out to others, we must carry our share of the misery in the world. The connection between all living things provides a plane on which good deeds may be felt universally, where a momentum is established and goodness echoes throughout. If we each contribute even the smallest amount toward the betterment of the world and its inhabitants, we have the ability to alleviate pain, suffering and misery. Ultimately, reaching out to those in need will have an effect greater than our initial steps because one good deed has the potential to lead to many others, each in turn developing into more distribution of goodness.
A powerful statement is made by those who practice Jainism. Jains lives are a consistent, unflagging example of the benefit of promoting life and goodness for all living things. Jains allow no room for aggression in their lives, they will not subordinate animals, some wear masks so as not to inhale insects, volunteers are found that provide food to traveling monks so that a monk may eat every day of his life. We can look at Jains and ask if their lives are more complicated, more challenging, more difficult because of their complete devotion to the preservation of life. They have to think constantly about their choices and actions, but what is so difficult about that? Why shouldnt we whole-heartedly think about the choices and actions we make every day? We spend so much time and energy considering choices like the home in which well live, the careers well pursue, even what movie to see on a Saturday night; if we re-direct those decision-making skills toward situations that are less complicated and have a more profound impact on the world as a whole, we will be on our way to promoting reverence for life.
It is not for the weak or the lazy to take action. The daily choices we will be faced with may be challenging, obstacles may impede our path in the promotion of life. When taking a step toward living the principle of reverence for life, one may face discomfort in the form of ridicule, misunderstandings and loneliness. It takes courage and strength to act upon principles that result in personal sacrifice but if we look at the ultimate goodness that comes from the choices and actions we make, there should be no doubt in our minds that the choice of action is a good choice; more significantly it is a necessity. Albert Schweitzer took an immeasurably large step toward the promotion of goodness when he decided to practice medicine in Africa. He was faced with adversity from the beginning of this step with the disapproval of his parents on his decision. Throughout the rest of his life, Dr. Schweitzer made numerous sacrifices as a result of his decision to practice medicine in Africa. His wife and daughter lived on a different continent, and as a result it appears his personal relationships with them did not grow and flourish as a husband and father might wish. We need to be aware that choices and action will not always be easy as we have seen so many of Dr. Schweitzers choices were not the simplest of options he had before him.
Why should we act upon the principle of reverence for life? Is it a debt we owe, if so to whom or what? Is it a sense of guilt as Dr. Schweitzer mentioned when explaining his decision to practice medicine in Africa? Answers to these questions will vary from person to person, but one thing remains certain: reverence for life is goodness and awareness in action, and we all have the ability to practice this simple yet profound principle. The promotion of reverence for life from one living entity to the next can only bring about relief in a world infected with pain. Whether a small, simple act like Dr. Schweitzers planting fruit trees near and around his hospital so that all people might take fruit as they needed it, or something complex and controversial like speaking out on political or volatile topics that we believe must be addressed however we categorize our actions, we may be at peace, after a full and active life of work and perseverance, knowing that our actions were profound because in them we promoted the principle of reverence for life.
|it is the responsibility of each living person to take a positive, dynamic step toward the betterment of all living things.|
|Dr. Schweitzers awareness of and action upon the common bond between all living things may have been established as early as his childhood.|
|Dr. Schweitzer has spoken of "the fellowship of those who bear the mark of pain."|
|Dr. Schweitzer suggested that upon relief of our own pain, we must reach out to others, we must carry our share of the misery in the world.|
|It is not for the weak or the lazy to take action.|
|The promotion of reverence for life from one living entity to the next can only bring about relief in a world infected with pain.|