My Address to the People
Mein Wort an die Menschen
(Albert Schweitzer, 1964)

original voice in German language

I summon mankind to the ethics of reverence for life. This ethic makes no distinction between more valuable and less valuable, higher and lower life. It rejects such a distinction. For the wish to assume universally valid distinctions of worth between living beings amounts ultimately only to this, that we judge their worth according to whether for our feeling they are more or less closely related to us humans. But this is a completely subjective yardstick. For who of us knows what significance the other living being has in itself and in the universe? The result of this distinction is the view that there is worthless life, whose annihilation or inhibition is permitted. Thus, depending on the circumstances, by worthless life we understand either insects or primitive nations.

The most immediate fact in the consciousness of man is this: “I am life that wants to live, in the midst of life that wants to live”. This universal affirmation of life is an act of the spirit in which man ceases to live blindly but rather begins to dedicate himself to his own life with reverence in order to give it its true worth. The man who has become thoughtful in this manner experiences at the same time the necessity of offering to every will to live the same reverence for life that he offers to his own. Good, then, for him means to preserve and promote life, raise life capable of developing to its highest worth. Evil, for him, means harming or destroying life capable of developing in its development. This is the absolute fundamental principle necessary for ethical thinking. Through the ethics of reverence for life we enter into a spiritual relation with this world.

In my own life I have always tried to remain youthful in my thinking and feeling, and I have again and again struggled with the facts and with my practical experience for faith in the good and the true. In this age, when violence hides behind lies and rules the world ominously as never before, I nevertheless remain convinced that truth, peaceableness and love, meekness and kindness, are the power that passes all power. The world will become theirs, if only enough men think and live with sufficient purity and constancy, the thoughts of truth and love, meekness and peaceableness.

Every usual power in this world produces a limit for itself, for it creates an opposite power that sooner or later becomes equal or superior to it. Kindness, on the other hand, acts simply and persistently. It creates no tensions through which it neutralizes itself, but relaxes existing tensions, it removes suspicion and misunderstandings. By awakening kindness, it gains new strength. For this reason, it is the most practical and most effective force. Whatever by way of kindness a man sends out into the world affects people’s hearts and thoughts. It is our stupid fault that we do not dare to make an earnest attempt at kindness. We always want the great load to move without making use of the lever that can multiply our strength a hundredfold. There is an immeasurably deep truth in the saying of Jesus: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”.

Reverence for life tells us to bring aid to the nations all over the world which are in need. Almost everywhere the fight against the diseases by which these nations are beset has started too late. When all is said and done, whatever good we do for the people of the former colonies is not charity, it is our atonement for the suffering which white people have inflicted on them from the very day when our ships first found the way to their shores. We must reach the point when white and coloured will meet in the ethical spirit. Only then will genuine understanding be possible. To work for the creation of this spirit means to pursue a policy with a future.

Whoever has been saved from dire distress or disease must himself lend a hand, so that those who are in distress today may obtain a helper as he did. This is the brotherhood of those marked by pain. They are responsible for the human and medical humanitarian work in all nations. This work ought to be carried out from the gifts of gratitude. I want to believe that we shall find enough people moved by our entreaties to give thank-offerings for those who are now in distress.

The distress, however, in which we live to this day is the peril that threatens peace. At this time we have the choice between two risks. The one consists in continuing the senseless armament race in atomic weapons, and in the implied danger of an atomic war; the other in the renouncing of atomic weapons, and in the hope that America, the Soviet Union and the nations connected with them will manage to live side by side in compatibility and peace. The first risk holds no possibility of a fruitful future. The second does. We must risk the second. The theory that peace can be preserved through deterring the opponent by atomic armament is out of the question for our time with its intensified danger of war. The goal toward which, from now on for all future, our eyes must be directed is that questions which divide the nations can no longer be settled by war. The settlement must be found by peaceful means.

I profess the conviction that we shall solve the problem of peace only when we reject war on ethical grounds, namely, because it makes us guilty of inhumanity. I am certain that in our time the mind has the power to create an ethical spirit. Therefore I proclaim this truth in the hope that it will not be put aside as a truth that looks good in words but does not count in reality.

May those who hold in their hands the fortunes of the nations be concerned to avoid everything that might make the situation in which we are, still more difficult and dangerous.

May they take to heart the splendid word of the apostle Paul: If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. This holds good not only for individuals, but also for nations. May they, to the utmost limits of possibility, endeavor to preserve peace with one another so that time may be given to the spirit of humanity and of reverence for all life to grow in strength and effectiveness.