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“Man must never cease to be human” (A. Schweitzer)

What does Albert Schweitzer have to tell us in todays world?

by Sigrid Schiller

Due to the award of this year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine to the Chinese Tu, the Irishman Campbell and the Japanese Omura, the suffering of millions of men in Africa, South-East Asia and South America has moved back into the focus of public attention again.
The three winners did research in and developed effective drugs against the diseases malaria, river blindness, and the so-called elephantiasis. Thanks to their commitment, each year the lives of around 100,000 malaria patients can be saved and in the near future the river blindness (onchocerciasis) and elephantiasis (lymphatic filariasis), which leads to horrible distortions, will be eradicated.  Both diseases are caused by worms.
Albert Schweitzer – 12 October of this year marks the 50th anniversary of his death – would be very highly pleased about these medical successes that especially relieve the plight of the poor in Africa, South-East Asia and South America. In 1913, as a young man, Schweitzer went to Gabon to work there as a physician and to provide support for the people.
Every person who has ever been seriously ill can imagine what a doctor means for a sick person. Recovery does not only depend on his medical knowledge, no, a doctor must also give himself to healing the sick as a compassionate fellow human with all his heart and emotional strength.The patient’s suffering must also be his own.
Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) was a doctor, who dedicated himself with body and soul to the Hippocratic task. He worked not only as a general practitioner but developed fundamental ethical thoughts in addition. His postulate “reverence for Life” expresses all that is required as a basis for a dignified coexistence.
His remarks are sheer balm for the wounds of our tortured souls in light of countless armed conflicts and millions of refugees in the world.  Getting to know his life as well as rescuing his comprehensive treatises on fundamental ethical issues from oblivion and making use of them is worth while in today’s troubled world.
This concern has been promoted since 2002 by the “Akademie für ethische Bildung” (Academy for Ethical Education)in Brunsbüttel established by Hans Stellmacher with great personal commitment in the framework of the “Kultur-und Tageszentrum Elbeforum” (Culture and Conference Centre Elbeforum). It was due to his own severe health problems that he began to do good. This educational institution aims at telling young people more about the work of Albert Schweitzer, this way preserving and promoting humanistic attitudes. In a separate room of the Elbe Forum important stages of Schweitzer’s life, his position on moral issues, his demands on policy makers are documented on large blackboards. This educational institution is supported by the “Goethe-Gesellschaft in Weimar e.V.” (Goethe Society) and the “Schillerverein e.V. Weimar” (Schiller Club).
To this end a considerable collection of different media mainly about Albert
Schweitzer can be found in Elbeforum,  beginning with outstanding picture books  providing insight into Schweitzer’s activities up to original recordings of lectures Schweitzer gave before different audiences and to documentary TV reports about his work in Lambarene. His religious and musical work has also been documented by various media.
Some materials contain direct recommendations and handouts for pedagogues. Every teacher is well advised to look into the homepage www.elbeforum.ch and to select the material appropriate for the particular age group. The team of Frank Dehning, assistant director of the cultural and conference centre, sends the desired material as a loan.
I have succsessfully made use of this offer with several 4th grades myself. For the purposes of teaching religion the subject  “Albert Schweitzer” proved to be especially fruitful. Albert Schweitzer describes in various documents elaborately that he did not acquire his social attitude in the cradle but that his conscience was formed during the first decades of his life. Schweitzer’s biography is so lively that even primary school pupils understand his feelings and thoughts and can follow him emotionally. “I am life that wants to live in the midst of life that wants to live”.
As a teacher in a truthful, calm conversation with the students you can open their eyes for their fellow human beings: “My classmate has quite similar needs than I have. He feels like me.” With the help of the collection of material in Brunsbüttel the teacher can purposefully guide the pupils to empathise, for example with the help of a talk that Albert Schweitzer gave to primary school pupils. Herein he impressively tells his young audience about a mother with her child. The child had had most serious burnings caused by an open fire. The mother had to travel two days in a small boat to reach the hospital while the child could not even cry any more, so big was its pain.
The students seriously reflect on how well they are medically provided for today and learn that up to this day this is not the case for a huge number of people in the world. Through discussions guided by the teacher in a sympathetic mood towards the pupils the wish grows in them to grant this relief to other children, as well.
Adolescents also search for workable answers for today’s world situation. They can deal with Schweitzer’s writings, lectures and his appeals to mankind, for example broadcast by Radio Oslo all over the world on 23 April 1957. Against the backdrop of the East-West conflict coming to a head Schweitzer stood up for a peaceful solution of conflicts without ambiguity! Conflicts which divide (whole) peoples could not be decided by wars any longer. A change of attitudes, however, could not be reached by simple measures or by organisational changes.
Only the intensive moral education of people of all ages and of all social classes as well as adequate role models might be able to bring about an ethics of responsibility and  humaneness. Everybody had to begin with himself and – together with like-minded people – reach the public.
With this Schweitzer is in accordance with the European tradition of the Enlightenment which sees man as a creature endowed with reason. Man is capable of distinguishing between harmful behaviour and behaviour which fosters life and of making his choice for humaneness due to his reason and his nature.    •
(Translation Current Concerns)