“The fundamental idea of good is thus: that it consists in preserving life, in favoring it, in wanting to bring it to its highest value; and evil consists in destroying life, doing it injury, hindering its development” (Albert Schweitzer).
AS WE LIVE AND WORK FROM DAY TO DAY, THE RESULT OF OUR ACTIVITY OUGHT TO BE THE PRESERVATION, OR SAVING, OF SOME THINGS WORTHY OF BEING SAVED. We don’t always think clearly about what is worth preserving, and our efforts at preservation aren’t always successful, but it would be sad if nobody could say, at the end of our lives, that there was any good thing that we had preserved.
Few of the good things in the world can remain unless somebody expends some effort to preserve them. And so when we lend our energies to the work of preservation, we’re doing worthy work. “To preserve and renew is almost as noble as to create,” said Voltaire.
Life is full of change, of course, and never more so than nowadays. There are times when things need to be replaced, removed, or gotten rid of. But the purpose of these changes is not merely negative. Ideally, we set aside some things in order to have better things which can be preserved. Thomas Babington was correct when he said, “Reform, that you may preserve.” Reformation and preservation don’t have to be enemies; they can be allies.
Specifically what it is that we preserve depends, of course, on our values, so there is much to be said for refining and improving our values. Most of us know what it’s like to look back and see things we discarded in the past that should have been preserved. So we’re wise if we work on improving our powers of judgment and discrimination. We should want to be, in the well-known words of Abraham Lincoln, “honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve.”
Are you a “preservationist”? Are there any good things that, by your help, are being saved from destruction? If not, there may be some little deeds you could start doing right now that would help preserve the most important thing of all: the hearts of your fellow human beings. You have it in your power to help hold back the ruinous forces that your friends and family members are struggling against. So do it.
“Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindness and small obligations win and preserve the heart” (Humphry Davy).