Albert Schweitzer’s reverence for life and Nonviolent Communication

Vedabhyas Kundu
4 min readMay 24, 2022


Diagnosing the decay of western civilization due to excessive discrepancy between the material development of the world and man’s moral responsibility, Albert Schweitzer underlined his ethical principles for reverence for life. He had pointed out that material development which ignores moral and spiritual development is “like a ship with defective steering gear that goes out of control at a constantly accelerating pace, thereby heading for catastrophe”.

Schweitzer had poignantly said, “The essential nature of civilization does not lie in its material achievements, but in the fact that individuals keep in mind the ideals of perfecting man, and improving the social and political conditions of peoples, and of mankind as a whole, and that their habit of thought is determined in living and constant fashion by such ideals.”

In The Philosophy of Civilization, Schweitzer noted, “True philosophy must start from the most immediate and comprehensive fact of consciousness, which says: “I am life that wills to live, in the midst of life that wills to live.” This is not an ingenious dogmatic formula. Day by day, hour by hour, I live and move in it.”

Schweitzer underlined the essence of moral responsibility to encompass all living creatures. If man acknowledges his connectedness with all living creatures, ‘then he is not permitted to set up a limit up to which he will respect life’.

According to Schweitzer, “A man is truly ethical only when he obeys the compulsion to help all life that he is able to assist, and shrinks from injuring anything that lives. He does not ask how firmly this or that life deserves one’s sympathy as being valuable, nor, beyond that, whether and to what degree it is capable of feeling. Life as such is sacred to him.” This underlines the firm belief in the philosophical position of the essence of human interdependence.

Schweitzer beautifully encapsulates his ethics of reverence for life, “Just as white light consists of colored rays, so reverence for life contains all of the components of ethics: love, kindliness, sympathy, empathy, peacefulness, power to forgive.” He points out how to be careful to ensure that we do not incorporate bitter phrases about the world’s ingratitude into our philosophy of life.

Schweitzer’s profound underpinning on why we as individuals need to be careful in ensuring that we do not incorporate bitter phrases about the world’s ingratitude and his strong argument of human beings’ moral responsibility to encompass all living beings provides a powerful guiding post for a nonviolent communication ecosystem. His position that if a man acknowledges his connectedness with all living creatures he will not have any limits up to which he will respect life is like a lamp post that shapes the ideas of nonviolent communication.

Nonviolent communication according to Senior Gandhian, Natwar Thakkar (Kundu, 2018):

“To me nonviolent communication literacy would mean how our communication efforts should be nonviolent; how our ability and capacity to communicate not only with ourselves but with our family and society be nonviolent in all aspects and overall how the entire process of communication whether between individuals, groups, communities and the world at large should be nonviolent in nature. This would entail deep understanding of the art and science of nonviolence and its centrality in all our daily actions. It’s not just verbal and nonverbal communication, nonviolent communication literacy would also include whether our thoughts and ideas are nonviolent or not. This would also mean how we can rid of our preconceived notions of individuals or groups with whom we want to communicate and stop evaluating them to suit our own ideas. More than often we are attuned to think in terms of moralistic judgments which may be our own constructions. By developing deep understanding of the art and science of nonviolence and integrating it in our communication practices we could get over with biased and moralistic judgments; this in turn could contribute to emotional bridge building.By being nonviolent communication literate, an individual/group/community will be able to self-introspect whether the message they want to share has elements of violence and whether such a message will hurt others. Nonviolent communication literacy would automatically help in strengthening and deepening relationships. When we are able to emotionally build bridges with others, we will be able to empathize with their views.”

Schweitzer’s prescriptions on reverence for life guide the understanding of nonviolent communication described by Natwar Thakkar. When it is stressed that individuals need to learn the art and science of nonviolence to be truly able to practice nonviolent communication, it means the individual genuinely appreciates the notion of human interdependence and furthers ‘the moral responsibility to all living beings.

Thakkar also talks about the power of nonviolent communication in emotional bridge building. For realizing emotional bridge-building not just with other human beings, but also with nature and all other living beings, it is essential to assimilate what Schweitzer describes as the components of reverence for life- love, kindliness, empathy, sympathy, peacefulness, and power to forgive.

Schweitzer also underlines the essence of human interconnectedness by drawing comparisons with waves. He says, “Just as the wave cannot exist for itself but must always participate in the swell of the ocean, so we can never experience our lives by ourselves but must always share the experiencing of life that takes place all around us.” We cannot experience life by just limited interactions with just other human beings but it has to be all-encompassing involving communication with nature and all other living beings.

In fact, to ensure nonviolent communication is an all-encompassing experience, we need to bring plurality to our approaches. In this context, Schweitzer’s ethics for reverence for life becomes an important guidepost on how we understand the centrality of nonviolent communication in our lives.


Kundu, Vedabhyas(2018). Nurturing Emotional Bridge Building: A Dialogue with Nagaland’s Gandhi; Peaceworks; Vol 8, №1; June 2018



Vedabhyas Kundu

I am doing extensive research in Nonviolent Communication, Nonviolent Conflict Resolution, Media and Information literacy. Am involved in writing on these .