Integrity, cattle and Albert Schweitzer’s beautiful mind

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, February 11, 2016

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” —Albert Schweitzer

I ended last week’s column with an invitation to our readers to suggest names of people whose beautiful minds have inspired them in their own life journey. One suggestion I received is a perfect fit for this particular season and historical moment.

First, about this season. Wednesday this week marked the beginning of Lent.

Lent is that period of 40 days (not counting Sundays) in the Christian calendar which began this year on Feb. 10 (Ash Wednesday) and ends on March  24, the Thursday before Easter. In Canada, it is celebrated in the liturgical practices of Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United and some evangelical churches. (A similar season known as Great Lent in Orthodox traditions begins this year on March 14.)

Lent is a time of prayerful contemplation on life’s brevity in a spirit of repentance, with particular attention to the needs of others. (See my Feb. 26, 2015 column.)

For me, this is especially a time to reflect on the virtue of integrity: Does my walk match my talk?

Here’s where one identification of a beautiful mind jumped out at me as an example of just such integrity: Albert Schweitzer. The early-20th century German/French humanitarian was singled out by Marlis McDouall, of Cochrane, as someone she’s admired from her youth.

“Albert Schweitzer used his tremendous intelligence and talents in very thoughtful ways,” she said. “He was looking to improve the lives of others which also included the wellbeing of animals. He was a thinker, a doctor and a musician, and he was good at all of it. Ethics before fame, power and greed.”

Marlis’s favourite quote from Albert Schweitzer? “Until he extends the circle of compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.”

Indeed, it was exactly this reverence for all of life that earned Schweitzer the 1952 Nobel Prize. His example has inspired many to follow in his footsteps.

In his 1985 book, Albert Schweitzer’s Mission: Healing and Peace, author Norman Cousins emphasized Schweitzer’s popular appeal as witness to his integrity: “The proof of his genuineness and his integrity is to be found in the response he awakened in people.”

As Schweitzer himself said: “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”

This is all about one’s personal ethics and its impact on life as a whole, he said.

“Civilization can only revive when there shall come into being in a number of individuals a new tone of mind, independent of the prevalent one among the crowds, and in opposition to it – a tone of mind which will gradually win influence over the collective one, and in the end determine its character. Only an ethical movement can rescue us from barbarism, and the ethical comes into existence only in individuals.”

About this, cattle ranchers will appreciate a lesson I learned this week from Dr. Dan Morgan, Professor of Church Planting at the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary and College, Cochrane.

“When I was in college I worked with a friend to paint a dairy barn,” Dan said. “In the milking room each milking position had a bin of dried vegetables to occupy the cow while being milked. I noticed that below each was a place where the cow's saliva had eaten away the lime from the concrete, leaving only the stones. Drip by drip, it had eaten away tiny bits of the cement.

“Lack of integrity is a lot like that. Each instance of moral compromise eats away an often-invisible bit of our character. Over time, though, the foundation of all we do, our character, is compromised to the point that one more choice results in the collapse of our life. All the good we have done, all the dreams we dreamed, relationships dear to us for years collapse into a heap of rubble that cannot be restored.”

To support his case all we need to do, he said, is look at the collapsing reputations today of many public figures we once idolized, as their lack of integrity is exposed before the courts of public opinion.

I began this week’s column by referring to Lent as a time for reflection on values and practices in our personal lives that may need cleaning up. I noted Marlis’s example of Albert Schweitzer as someone of a beautiful mind characterized by integrity.

In view of all the political rhetoric filling the airwaves these days, I’d like to close with a quote from another of our Cochrane coffee companions, authenticity guru David Irvine:

“Great leadership cannot be reduced to technique, position or power. Great leadership comes from the strength of one’s authentic presence – the identity and integrity of the leader.”


© 2016 Warren Harbeck

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