Published Feb 7, 13 PM
By Kirk Hensler
People say that Mother Teresa was an inspirational figure. I ask my students sometimes to name a role model, and I always hear the answer, “Mother Teresa.”
But what did Mother Teresa actually do? I know she was into charity and helping the poor and all that jazz, but who was she? What was motivating her to live this way? Thankfully. Mother Teresa was pretty web savvy and has a beefy Wikipedia profile.
As it turns out, Mother Teresa was an Albanian, Indian, Roman Catholic nun. Which sounds exactly like a description of someone who would beat you senseless with a stick for not saying your Hail Marys. “It’s good for you; it’s God’s will,” she would say, with a stone cold face, as she turned your butt red with her thrashings, possibly picking her teeth with a toothpick at the same time.
She did, however, devote her whole goddamn life to serving Jesus, so she can’t be all bad.
But why did she do it?
There is only one photo of Mother Teresa where she is smiling. It has been recreated with different backgrounds and color schemes, but it is still only one. The rest of the time, she looks like my late Nana ten beers deep after her Steelers lost in the playoffs.
I looked a little deeper to see if I could get a better feel for this woman. And then I found the golden ticket: she racked up more awards for being peaceful than anyone in human history. She even won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, but refused the conventional ceremonial banquet and gave the $192k prize to poor people in India. Noble move, right? I don’t think so. It wasn’t enough for her to be recognized for the award? She needed to also be recognized as the person who refused the ceremony and the money? Annoying. She was on a secret, personal mission to be the most peaceful person ever, even surpassing Gandhi.
I suspect that if I could have broken into her apartment I would have found a headshot of Gandhi on the wall with his eyeballs carved out by a knife and darts sticking to his forehead (ok maybe not, but I can dream). “That son of a bitch was so effective that he got assassinated,” she would mumble under her breath as she stared at herself in the mirror during her daily morning pep talk. “I’m the most self-less. That half-naked bastard never won any awards. I will show the world,” she would continue as she splashed scalding hot water on her aging face just to feel alive.
She set out on a mission to be the most helpful, the most philanthropic, and the most peaceful human ever. She even went so far as to visit a leprosy colony to help the people that no one else would help. No one else would help. What normal person would do something like this? “Leprosy, oh no thanks, I’m going to sit this one out…those people are fucked,” the other charitable figures would say. Not MT, that was her opportunity to shine, to stand out amongst the crowd of half-assed helpers.
Charity is something most people do on the side because they feel fortunate to be living a good life and want to give back.
Charitable work is motivated by compassion. Most people have compassion but are ultimately going to make sure they are taking care of themselves and their families. That is the nature of our existence. It’s our biology and it’s our instinct. It is the sign of a healthy individual. Perhaps one might argue that some people have a different spiritual purpose during their lifetimes here. Well, unfortunately, Mother Teresa was one miracle away from being recognized as a saint by the Catholic church, so I guess that shoots that theory down. Bummer.
Too much attention on other people means not enough attention on yourself. Which usually means something gnar gnar happened, and it is easier to cater to the suffering of others than to fix your own life. I’m going to make the obvious connection here to a lot of “healers” (barf) and yoga teachers. They are pretty damn fantastic when you are suffering and need their help. But try telling them you’ve got it covered, things are under control, and you don’t need them. “What? You don’t need me?” Watch the healing teacher become the raging bull and suffer a complete meltdown right before your eyes. The insides of those with the perfect outsides.
What if the poor had refused Mother Teresa’s help and she was left living a life just for herself? What would her days have looked like if everywhere she went the people told her they were better off without her help? What if your yoga teachers or your friends didn’t have your problems to dwell on? What would things look like if everyone was forced to deal with their own shit? Well, it would be a shit show, I guess. It’s pretty obvious that Mother Teresa was simply the most unhappy person in human history.
Illustration credit: Megan Landry designtaco.com
About Kirk Hensler
Kirk Hensler was raised in metro Detroit on a steady diet of meat, potatoes and team sports. As a competitive athlete, he relied on his speed, power and dominant attitude to excel. Years later, when he took up martial arts, he was tossed around a sweaty dojo for months by various women and children. One day, while horizontal on the mat, he had the profound realization that their patience and finesse quietly trumped his strength and aggression. This led to an exploration of ancient Eastern philosophies, which, in turn, led Kirk to Taiwan, where he taught English, studied martial arts and ate a lot of delicious and strange street food. When Kirk returned to the US, he began applying what he’d learned to his Western, urban life and to his career as a wellness coach, martial arts instructor, and yoga teacher. Check out Kirk’s hip hop video.