FROM REVERENCE FOR LIFE UK - JANUARY 2019
Few would deny right now, that we are living through a period of drought as far as trust is concerned.
Human relationships, be they within families, local communities, nations or society as a whole, rely on a certain bedrock of trust in order to function. However this bedrock seems now to be dissolving into a quagmire in which it is hard to find any firm ground.
Our Newsletter No.10, in 2012 carried two quotations from Albert Schweitzer’s writings which seem even more pertinent now:
“Trust is the great operating capital for all undertakings, without which no useful work can be accomplished.” and “The only way out of today’s misery is for people to become worthy of each other’s trust.”
In Volumes I and II of his Philosophy of Civilisation, Schweitzer wrote:
“ The aspirations of our time are permeated by the fixed idea that if we were able to adapt and perfect our public and social institutions, this would by itself bring about the progress we expect. Everybody thinks that a new spirit will emerge from new or improved institutions… many of the most serious among us are caught up in this terrible error. All institutions and organisations are only of relative significance….They fail because uncivilised forces are active within them.”
“ The understanding and trust which allows us to agree on the essentials we need in order to master the circumstances in which we find ourselves, can only arise where a deeply felt inner attitude of respect for the material and spiritual wellbeing of the ‘other’ can be taken for granted.”
In Volume III of his Philosophy of Civilisation, (paragraphs B 301 & 302, where he discusses the development of ethics from the early beginnings of human civilisation, Schweitzer wrote:
“Our behaviour and our actions are not only determined by an intention to help others but also by the image of a perfect human being, which we carry within us. The ethical consists not only of the right attitude towards others but also towards oneself.
The first manifestation of this compulsion towards self-improvement and perfection is the striving for truthfulness, veracity and authenticity….
The historical development of ethics shows that the first step from a low ethic to a higher one is not taken when people start to show concern and a helpful attitude towards those outside the immediate family circle or tribe, but when people begin to see lies and deception, falsehood and trickery as no longer compatible with their own nature….
It is surely also a factor in the motivation towards truthfulness, that people become trustworthy, resulting in considerable improvements in community life as people behave honestly towards each other…We do not take up the endless battle of striving towards truthfulness just because it benefits others, but also for our own sake - because we feel the need for self-respect.”
Is it not above all the loss of this self-respect and the integrity which goes with it, which is robbing us of our firm footing as we struggle with the big issues of our time?
A while ago I was asked in a casual way: “Ah yes, reverence for life! What’s that all about?”
The situation required a short answer, so I said: “Truthfulness and kindness;”
“Is that it?” was the response.
“Well”, I said, “if we had more honesty in politics and the media and more kindness in business, wouldn’t the world be a very different place?”
The questioner was too polite to say what was on his mind, namely: “…if pigs could fly…..?”
Is that not so often our first reaction to Schweitzer’s advice? And is that not a symptom of our direction of travel and of how far we have drifted, rudderless, on these choppy waters of our times? And is it not high time that we began to think more deeply about our predicament and to take it more seriously?
It is true - on rare occasions these two - truthfulness and kindness - can be in conflict with each other, but in the vast majority of cases they work as a team when you are trying to put the philosophy of Reverence for Life into practice.
At the time the Earth Charter was written with the aim of producing a document to chart the direction of travel for humanity during the second millennium, no need was felt to mention either truthfulness or kindness. Both were taken for granted as being implied where for instance the Preamble states under the heading of
….The spirit of human solidarity and kinship with all life is strengthened when we live with reverence for the mystery of being, gratitude for the gift of life , and humility regarding the human place in nature……We urgently need a shared vision of basic values to provide an ethical foundation for the emerging world community. Therefore, together in hope we affirm the following interdependent principles for a sustainable way of life as a common standard by which the conduct of all individuals, businesses, governments and transnational institutions is to be guided and assessed.”
Less than two decades later this is no longer the case. We must now speak about ‘trustworthiness’
With the advent of the term ‘fake news’ - which had not yet been invented during the last years of the 20th Century when the vast, global consultation leading up to the final text of the Earth Charter was taking place - the foundations of trust within our societies’ operating systems have been fatally shaken.
The thought, that deception, the spreading of blatant lies, and the manipulation of information - so easily facilitated by the advent of ‘social media’ - would take on such proportions that they could undermine the operation of our democratic system, had not yet occurred. This was not yet an issue in the minds of those who wrote in paragraph IV. DEMOCRACY, NONVIOLENCE AND PEACE:
13. a. “Uphold the right of everyone to receive clear and timely information…..”
It was still assumed that such information would be true; that official channels could be trusted in our democracies. Whatever happened to that trust? How can it be regained?
Reverence for Life UK incorporating Dr. Schweitzer’s Hospital Fund