Albert Schweitzer on Maturity

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.”

Albert Schweitzer

Albert Schweitzer

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.

About Bob Ritzema

I am a fourth-generation American of Dutch ancestry and am trained as a clinical psychologist. In 2012, I retired from Methodist University in North Carolina to return to . Michigan to help family, and, in 2023, I started again with a move to Milwaukee to be near my children. I maintain a part-time therapy practice. I can be reached at
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4 Responses to Albert Schweitzer on Maturity

  1. valleygrail says:

    He is one of my heroes. A great man who modestly did great things. Thank you for the thoughtful post.

  2. bobritzema says:

    He is an exemplar of unselfish service to others. He’s definitely a goo choice as a hero!

  3. Laurie says:

    Thank you x1,000!!!!!! My college advisor sent me a post card when I was in hospital. It was a brown tint, with a picture of Dr. Schweitzer in a small boat on a river. This quote was printed on it.
    I have searched and searched for this quote. You do not know how happy I feel right now- almost to tears.

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