# 364: Mother Teresa?

Spink, Kathryn (2011). Mother Teresa: An Authorized Biography.

Story behind the Passage

Today I had a short conversation with someone I really admire for her insights, her clarity, and her devoted way of doing good deeds in a system that is not that good over all. This is a perfect transition to the church already! But I am too fast. In any case, I really appreciate this colleague and the way in which she combines her kindness with a determined toughness that still marks her as a business scholar. We talked because I mentioned a project to her which aims at getting funding for someone else. I would like her to be the “rational” third party looking at our proposal, to give feedback, to help make it more concise. And she is completely open to this and willing to help. But she said a remarkable thing:

“Why would you do this for someone else? What’s in it for YOU? Do you not want this to end up on YOUR CV?”

I immediately understood what she was telling me. It was rational. It targeted what some call “typical women’s thinking” — you do stuff for others but you do not move forward yourself. I completely got it and I thanked her for the reminder. Still, I am completely aware of what I am intending to do. My decision to support the endeavor and not write it in my own name is my decision, even my idea. Nobody asked me to do this. I want it this way because for me, doing this for someone else is more rewarding than doing it for myself. I do not really care about the results. But I do care about helping someone to achieve these results. It is what I have come to understand at this point in my life and it feels wonderful, it feels right. It does not feel like impostor syndrome or the lack of self-confidence. No, it feels like serving someone with the genuine intentions.

But this is not really what you do nowadays, I guess.

Immediately, this incident made me think of another scene from a few weeks ago. It was a really minor problem of everyday life. And even before I had voiced and intention, a person who knows me very well gave me the warning: “Please, do not even think about helping him, you are not Mother Teresa!” And there were many moments like this before when people told me: “Come on, stop saving the world. Just take care of your own money an that is it.” Then there were other moments when people literally tried to save me from saving others because they were afraid that I would never get anything out of it. “If you do not think of yourself first, nobody will,” this was the message.

My response to these interventions usually was: “Well, probably, they are right. I should stop helping people because it does not help anybody in the end. I do not get anything and I cannot stock my own fridge that way.” Still, I always had this feeling that, if I then followed the egoistic path, something was not right. But I was also careful because I knew that blunt helper syndrome can indeed ruin your life. So, in the end, my bottom line was that Mother Teresa is a bad role model for me because what she did does not work in the real world of today. Hence, I should always try to stay away from that danger zone and think of “what is in it for me” first. And to be honest, I can do this, no doubt, I am not stupid. You can train your brain to think this way and your heart to feel this way. And then you act accordingly.

What if I just do not want this?!

This brings us back to Mother Teresa. No, I am not comparing myself to her, no way. But her image is so prominent as a household term for the kind of humanistic, even Christian, philantropist. I have to be honest, I have not read this book about her yet but I desperately wanted to talk about her today. And the way she is described here is remarkable. Still, I have to find out more about her story. I wonder if she ever felt doubts about the fact that doing good is obviously bad from the perspective of most “sane” people around you. Honestly, I give a shit about this. Caring about myself first means one thing to me: I need to be happy. And increasingly, I feel that the only time I feel truly happy is when I take care of human problems, essential ones, in which I hold no stakes. As the following passages show, Mother Teresa probably had less problems linking these seeming opposites.

My Learnings

“Mother Theresa would have taken the side of the Church, the side of obedient faith against radical progress based on rational evidence.” The word that immediately caught my attention here is “obedience.” What I am describing above is nothing but obedience to a higher purpose. This made me think of another word someone mentioned recently which is “serving.” And you know what: I do think that serving is a wonderful thing. I would never ever have thought that I would say something like this but I mean it. Even in the secular world, serving can make you happy. The thing is: An important thing that matters in this case is whom you are serving.

As far as Mother Teresa was concerned, as we all know, she served the poorest of the poor. But, of course, she really served God with her service. And the fact that this God is at home in fancy palaces in Rome and elsewhere can truly mean a severe crisis, at least for people who are not Mother Teresa. It is the same as walking through a university which supposedly stands for education and learning but nobody reads books anymore or studies more than one discipline. But the sentences the author shares about this supposed binary are quite striking, I think, in the sense of revealing:

“Her love of the poor might have brought her into conflict with the rich and the powerful, but then she had seen the poverty of the rich and the wealth of the poor, and the value of bringing rich and poor together. She did not condemn those who had many things. They were rich for a purpose.”

This conclusion is remarkable but very logical. If you believe, there is a purpose in everything, there is also a purpose in having rich people. They can indeed help the poor, just like the smart people can help the stupid ones. It totally makes sense but I am not sure if it solves my problem. The problem really is that Mother Teresa was Mother Teresa. She was a nun. If you want to act like Mother Teresa and you live in the “real world,” would this be possible? Can you just help people without any selfish intentions, I mean, really devote your time to this while having to compete for some basic income and a “career”?

The answer is “no,” I guess, because we live in a world in which we need money to pay our bills. It is that simple. And because this is the case, Mother Teresa is not the ideal model. Most likely, she is a model for self-sacrifice and lack of self-esteem. People even mock you by calling you by her name, just like I mentioned above. And then you start questioning your own sanity. How can you be so “stupid” to want that yourself? How can you belive that you can really help someone? Why the heck would you live in poverty if you could be among the “rich” who can help the poor with their money instead of giving them their time and kindness?

Actually, I do not give a shit about these questions anymore. At least, I try… People can answer these questions for their own lives. The remarkable insight today was that I do not have to stop questioning or even repudiating my “good” intentions. I will continue helping people, no matter what, if I feel this is what needs to be done. It is not a universal Mother Teresa agenda, but one that depends on my individual assessment of the situation. Yes, I know, this is still risky because you have to live on something. But I was in this situation many times before. And whenever I followed my heart, doors did open up. They remained closed when I followed some rational utility calculation. So, to come back to the current case, I will make this contribution without any specific personal benefits in sight. I do not even know what I would ask for. I just feel that it is high time for this step and I have been pondering it far too long. If this ends up being “stupid” for my own path, fine. If Mother Teresa made it to the age of 87, I guess, it can at least keep you healthy.

Reflection Questions

1) What do you know about Mother Teresa?

2) How do you think about the quote that the “rich are rich for a reason”?

3) Do you think it is possible to devote your life to good deeds while living the normal life of a “civilian,” i.e., not as an ordained nun/friar? Why/not?



Founder & CEO of Companypoets

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store