More on Schweitzer and Maturity

wrote earlier about a comment Albert Schweitzer made about maturity. In looking for the source of that quote, I ran across something else he had said about the topic. The first quote I had found came from when Schweitzer was almost 70, and the second was from his Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, published when he was 49, or about 20 years earlier. Here is the one from midlife:

Albert Schweitzer

Albert Schweitzer

“Instinctively I have fought against becoming what is usually called a “mature person…. What is usually considered maturity in a person is really resigned reasonableness. It is acquired by adopting others as models and by abandoning one after another the thoughts and convictions that were dear to us in our youth. We believed in the good; we no longer do so. We were zealous for justice; we are so no longer. We had faith in the power of kindness and peaceableness; we have it no longer. We could be filled with enthusiasm; we can no longer be. In order to navigate more safely through the dangers and storms of life, we lightened our boat. We threw overboard goods that we thought were dispensable; but it was our food and water that we got rid of. Now we travel more lightly, but we are starving.”

Here is what he said in older adulthood:

“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.”

So Schweitzer went from regarding ‘maturity’ as a code word for selling out one’s principles and losing one’s convictions, to regarding maturity, at least in the ideal, as a more pure, peaceable, and caring mode of existence. That’s a pretty substantial difference! I don’t know enough about Schweitzer’s life to be able to hazard a guess about what changed his thinking. The change is consonant with normal developmental processes, though.

According to Daniel Levinson, the psychologist who popularized the notion of the midlife crisis, middle adulthood is a time of de-illusionment. I  wrote earlier about the reappraisal of one’s life that often takes place at this time. Here’s how Levinson describes this process of self-examination:

“As he attempts to reappraise his life, a man discovers how much it has been based on illusions, and he is faced with the task of de-illusionment. By this expression I mean a reduction of illusions, a recognition that long-held assumptions and beliefs about self and world are not true.”

Such probing of one’s thoughts and values can result in a discovery of something that is not illusion, a solid foundation of beliefs on which to rebuild. Alternately, it can result in becoming skeptical that principles or integrity can serve as the basis for life. Perhaps when Schweitzer wrote about maturity in his late 40s, he was referring to the latter outcome: a de-illusionment that left one without convictions concerning truth or goodness. That type of maturity is certainly not worth having!

I suspect that Schweitzer eventually realized that questioning one’s convictions can in some instances be beneficial. Such self-evaluation can reveal that early life successes based on egoism, malice, or strife aren’t ultimately satisfying. When such qualities are uprooted, there is space to nurture those things that Schweitzer described as comprising a desirable form of maturity, among them simplicity, honesty, and compassion. This is the maturity that I aspire to!

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About bobritzema

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 my parents' home and provide them with assistance. I maintain part-time therapy practices in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Fayetteville, North Carolina. I currently worship at Square Inch Community Church in Grand Rapids. I can be reached at bobritzema@hotmail.com.
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