There is a romantic at sleep in my heart who likes to believe that people were better in the good old days. The people I saw as a child were much simpler than the ones I see nowadays, for example. Fifty years can make the world quite a different place. By this logic, people who lived a few centuries ago would have been very nice creatures.
Well, not quite. It doesn’t work that way. People had more or less the same degree of wickedness at any time. What Jean-Paul Sartre said in 20th century is what Marcus Aurelius said in the second century. Sartre said, “Hell is other people.” Aurelius said, “When you wake in the morning, tell yourself: the people you deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, jealous, and surly.”
Even Mother Teresa, who being a saint would have been expected to foster a more generous view of human beings, seemed to think quite in the lines of Sartre and Aurelius. “People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centred; forgive them anyway,” Mother is reported to have said. But I am told that those were not her words. She had adapted Kent M Keith’s words. True as that may be, the fact that the saint thought of the Keith exhortation (which is much longer than the quote above) worthy of a place at the entrance to one of her convents suggests that she didn’t hold the human soul in as much veneration as her theology would have wanted her to.
A few minutes back a student of mine raised a question in the online class. “When we are children, people appear very nice,” she said. “When we grow up, why do people become so complicated?” It is that question which led to this post. I couldn’t have made this answer in the class. All I said there was, “People are always complicated. It’s just that children see all reality as simple. As we grow up, we are condemned to see what lies beyond the simplicity.”
Mother Teresa was in deep touch with reality. She had no trace of the romantic anywhere in her heart. She was blatantly practical. She had no time to debate with people who accused her of upholding an unjust system by opening institutions for the victims. It is the system that should be changed, her critics said. She knew better. You can’t change the human nature. From the time of Marcus Aurelius to that of Jean-Paul Sartre, human nature remained the same: devilish. We can only mitigate the agony of the hells created by people. Mother Teresa did just that.
Was the Mother an optimist? This is a question that has poked my brain for years. She was not a pessimist, I know. She was not a cynic, I know. But an optimist? No, I don’t think so. Somebody who admits so openly that human nature is essentially absurd and egoistic is not an optimist. The only answer I’ve got for this so far is that Mother Teresa accepted life as evil (radical pessimism like the Buddha’s) but did whatever she could to reduce the evils of the human world. Her god, Jesus, didn’t possess a fraction of that pragmatism. He chose death over life. No, not much of optimism when we get close to religion and philosophy.
This post is a part of Blogchatter Half Marathon.