I recently ran across a quote about ‘maturity’ attributed to Albert Schweitzer. As he neared age 70, he reportedly wrote:
“The meaning of maturity which we should develop in ourselves is that we should strive always to become simpler, kinder, more honest, more truthful, more peace-loving, more gentle and more compassionate.”
I looked for the original source of this quote, but couldn’t find it, so I don’t know the context. If he was indeed nearing 70 when he wrote this, he must have written while serving as a physician at the mission hospital in Lambaréné in what is now the central African nation of Gabon (he turned 70 in 1945, and for several years before that he had been unable to return even briefly to Europe because of World War II). He had gone to medical school for the sole purpose of serving as a medical missionary, first going to Lambaréné in 1913 and staying there much of the rest of his life. He returned to Europe mostly in order to raise additional funds for the hospital (biographical details taken from Wikipedia). Thus, he had been displaying kindness and compassion, two of the characteristics he listed, for decades before writing this. He probably was displaying the other characteristics in his list as well. In fact, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952, testifying to his peace-loving nature. So, why is he still talking about striving to develop these characteristics?
I suspect it is because he knows that genuine maturity is aware of its continued immaturity. The more we mature, the greater our awareness of how lacking we are in maturity. Philip Larkin made a point something like this in the following letter excerpt:
“It’s funny: one starts off thinking one is shrinkingly sensitive & intelligent & always one down & all the rest of it: then at thirty one finds one is a great clumping brute, incapable of appreciating anything finer than a kiss or a kick, roaring out one’s hypocrisies at the top of one’s voice, thick skinned as a rhino. At least I do.” Letters to Monica—letter of 8 November 1952
So someone like Schweitzer by virtue of his maturity was probably more aware than most of us of his shortcomings when it came to simplicity, kindness, honesty, and the rest. I hope I will someday become mature enough to have even a fraction of his self-awareness. I know I will never match him. Still, I’ll try to progress to the extent I can. His devotion to Christ and the poor helped him to mature; I aspire to follow the same path.