Friday, February 23, 2007

The Lifelong Selfishness of a Nine-Year-Old Girl

This paragraph from Stuart Derbyshire's review of a biography of Mother Teresa of Calcutta has simply mystified me:

Nevertheless, readers who can get past the somewhat pompous and turgid start will find some striking information with quite uncomfortable implications for supporters of Mother Teresa. Her devotion to Jesus was a personal attempt to deal with grief, and her dedication to the poor of Calcutta part of her effort towards self-salvation. Similar to many celebrity figures, it was all about me, me, me. This puts her work into a whole new and rather less flattering light.

Perhaps it's the fact that I read and like George Eliot, and one of Eliot's major moral themes, one that arises again and again in her novels in one form or another, is that this is, in fact, exactly the sort of thing we should do to deal with grief: to dedicate ourselves to those who need our help. There's hardly any coherent sense in which this can be called a 'me, me, me' attitude. Perhaps it's less this than the obvious point that 'self-salvation' is hardly an ignoble end to aim at, although, like any other end, it requires the right means if it is to be obtained in the right way. And perhaps it's the fact that the grief in question is supposed to have been caused by the death of her father at age 9, and the attempt to cope with it is somehow supposed to cast a pall over the whole life of a woman who died at age 87; and what is more, it is supposed to show that a career of helping the poor that lasted half a century was really just a bit of selfishness. It seems an awfully large burden of blame to put on a nine-year-old girl, even granting that the interpretation of the data is right, and not just an exercise in biographical eisegesis. And one suspects it just might be such an exercise from the fact that Teresa's refusal to let reporters focus on any details of her own life, as opposed to the work being done to help those in need, is interpreted as a ruthless attempt to maintain her celebrity image.

A mystifying line of reasoning.

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