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There’s a provocative interview question that goes something like this…”if you could sit next to anyone dead or alive on a flight from New York to San Francisco, who would you like to sit next to and why?”

Well assuming that I’m in the mood to talk and the person next to me is also willing to oblige, the easy answer is Jesus, Confucius, Buddha, or some other iconic spiritual dude.

For me, it’s Albert Schweitzer.  His writings inspire me, provoke me, and anger me.

Albert Schweitzer was an theologian, musician, philosopher, and physician. Schweitzer challenged both the secular view of historical Jesus current at his time and the traditional Christian view, depicting a Jesus who expected the imminent end of the world. He received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 for his philosophy of “reverence for life”, expressed in many ways, but most famously in founding and sustaining the Lambaréné Hospital in Gabon, west central Africa.

His writings include: Out of My Life and Thought, The Quest of the Historical Jesus,  Reverence for Life: The Words of Albert Schweitzer,  The Philosophy of Civilization: The Decay & the Restoration of Civilization/Civilization & Ethics,  The Primeval Forest,  On the Edge of the Primeval Forest/More from the Primeval Forest,  The Animal World of Albert Schweitzer, The Words of Albert Schweitzer

Below are the  “best of the best” Schweitzer quotes that I’ve assembled over the years.  If you happen to come across one I’ve missed, please share it.

ATTITUDE

“As soon as man does not take his existence for granted, but beholds it as something unfathomably mysterious, thought begins.”
 “The greatest discovery of any generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering the attitudes of their minds.”
“No one can give a definition of the soul. But we know what it feels like. The soul is the sense of something higher than ourselves, something that stirs in us thoughts, hopes, and aspirations which go out to the world of goodness, truth and beauty. The soul is a burning desire to breathe in this world of light and never to lose it–to remain children of light.”
“The question about whether I am a pessimist or an optimist, I answer that my knowledge is pessimistic, but my willing and hope are optimistic.”
“O heavenly Father, protect and bless all things that have breath: guard them from all evil and let them sleep in peace.”
“He who does not reflect his life back to God in gratitude does not know himself.”
“A man does not have to be an angel to be a saint.”
“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”
“Eventually all things fall into place. Until then, laugh at the confusion, live for the moments, and know EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON.”
“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”
“Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.”
“By respect for life we become religious in a way that is elementary, profound and alive.
“Soldiers’ graves are the greatest preachers of peace.”
“Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will – his personal responsibility in the realm of faith and morals.”

BEHAVIOR

“Man is a clever animal who behaves like an imbecile.”
“Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.”
“The demands of Jesus are difficult because they require us to do something extraordinary. At the same time He asks us to regard these [acts of goodness] as something usual, ordinary.”

RELATIONSHIPS

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”
“We are all so much together, but we are all dying of loneliness.”
Impart as much as you can of your spiritual being to those who are on the road with you, and accept as something precious what comes back to you from them.
“Just as the wave cannot exist for itself, but is ever a part of the heaving surface of the ocean, so must I never live my life for itself, but always in the experience which is going on around me.”
“Man can no longer live for himself alone. We must realize that all life is valuable and that we are united to all life. From this knowledge comes our spiritual relationship with the universe.”

GIVING / SERVING OTHERS

“Everyone must work to live, but the purpose of life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others. Only then have we ourselves become true human beings.”
“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”
“The only thing of importance, when we depart, will be the traces of love we have left behind.”
“Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.”
“Seek always to do some good, somewhere… Even if it’s a little thing, so something for those that need help, something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it.”
“You must give time to your fellow men — even if it’s a little thing, do something for others — something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it. –”
“Do something wonderful, people may imitate it.”
“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate. ”
“Anyone who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll stones out of his way, but must accept his lot calmly if they even roll a few more upon it.”

 LEADERSHIP

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”
 “In the hopes of reaching the moon men fail to see the flowers that blossom at their feet.”
“The thinking (person) 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.”
“The purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others.”
“True philosophy must start from the most immediate and comprehensive fact of consciousness: ‘I am life that wants to live, in the midst of life that wants to live”
“Ethics, too, are nothing but reverence for life. This is what gives me the fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, promoting, and enhancing life, and that destroying, injuring, and limiting life are evil.”

ANIMALS

“The only escape from the miseries of life are music and cats…”
“We must fight against the spirit of unconscious cruelty with which we treat the animals. Animals suffer as much as we do. True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them. It is our duty to make the whole world recognize it. Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace.”
“In the past we have tried to make a distinction between animals which we acknowledge have some value and other which, having none, can be liquidated when we wish. This standard must be abandoned. Everything that lives has value simply as a living thing, as one of the manifestations of the mystery that is life.”
“For animals that are overworked, underfed, and cruelly treated; for all wistful creatures in captivity that beat their wings against bars; for any that are hunted or lost or deserted or frightened or hungry; for all that must be put to death…and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion and gentle hands and kindly words.”
 “Just as a tree bears the same fruit year after year and at the same time fruit that is new each year, so must all permanently valuable ideas be continually created anew in thought. But our age pretends to make a sterile tree bear fruit by tying fruits of truth onto its branches.” 
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