“What is the nature of this degeneration in our civilization and why has it come about? . . The disastrous feature of our civilization is that it is far more developed materially than spiritually. Its balance is disturbed . . . Now come the facts to summon us to reflect. They tell us in terribly harsh language that a civilization which develops only on its material side, and not in the sphere of the spirit . . . heads for disaster.
The ethic of Reverence for Life prompts us to keep each other alert to what troubles us and to speak and act dauntlessly together in discharging the responsibility that we feel. It keeps us watching together for opportunities to bring some sort of help to animals in recompense for the great misery that men inflict upon them, and thus for a moment we escape from the incomprehensible horror of existence.
I must interpret the life about me as I interpret the life that is my own. My life is full of meaning to mc. The life around me must be full of significance to itself. If I am to expect others to respect my life, then I must respect the other life I see, however strange it may be to mine. And not only other human life, but all kinds of life: life above mine, if there be such life; life below mine, as I know it to exist. Ethics in our Western world has hitherto been largely limited to the relations of man to man. But that is a limited ethics. We need a boundless ethics which will include the animals also.
A man is really ethical only when he obeys the constraint laid on him to aid all life which he is able to help, and when he goes out of his way to avoid injuring anything living. He does not ask how far this or that life deserves sympathy as valuable in itself, nor how far it is capable of feeling. To him life as such is sacred If he goes out into the street after a rainstorm and sees a worm which has strayed there, he reflects that it will certainly dry up in the sunshine if it does not quickly regain the damp soil into which it can creep, and so he helps it back from the deadly paving stone into the lush grass. Should he pass by an insect which has fallen into a pool, he spares the time to reach a leaf or stalk on which it may clamber and save itself.
The man who has become a thinking being feels a compulsion to give every will-to-live the same reverence for life that he gives to his own. He experiences that other life in his own.
The thinking man must oppose all cruel customs no matter how deeply rooted in tradition and surrounded by a halo. When we have a choice, we must avoid bringing torment and injury into the life of another, even the lowliest creature; to do so is to renounce our manhood and shoulder a guilt which nothing justifies.
It is the fate of every truth to be an object of ridicule when it is first acclaimed. It was once considered foolish to suppose that black men were really human beings and ought to be treated as such. What was once foolish has now become a recognized truth. Today it is considered as exaggeration to proclaim constant respect for every form of life as being the serious demand of a rational ethic. But the time is coming when people will be amazed that the human race existed so long before it recognized that thoughtless injury to life is incompatible with real ethics. Ethics is in its unqualified form extended responsibility to everything that has life.”
Dr Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) 1952 Nobel Peace Prize Winner
I was once a little girl who woke on rainy days thinking of the worms that needed to be saved. I also spent a great deal of time feeling ashamed of those thoughts and my deep suffering for the mistreatment of animals. If I were to speak of the atrocities of Auschwitz or the horrifying slaughter of Rwandan’s, that would be deemed culturally acceptable to be grieved and protested. Yet, if I brought up the topic of factory farming, and my unrelenting grief for all of the tortured and suffering animals, I would be called extreme. How dare I even compare the human suffering of concentration camps with those of pigs, cows and chickens? How dare I? I dare today because I believe with all of my heart that it is all connected and if we can justify one atrocity, then we can justify another. Until we take a closer look at how each of our actions or inaction profoundly affect all living beings, we will stay stuck in a world that accepts the harassment and murder of innocent black men, underpaid women in the workforce, rich and poor schools, technology that infringes on morality or religion as a justification for war.
In our culture today, being conscious takes effort, sacrifice and a willingness to be inconvenienced. Yet as our collective consciousness continues to grow, it will become much easier to be awake to all of the lives around us. Our choices in commerce, agriculture, education, government, etc.. will be simplified by our common commitment to the respect of all living beings.