Why should I clean up other people’s mess?

Jean Cocteau  says that there are two kinds of people – kids and adults. I have always perceived myself as an adult. At the age of thirteen I looked the way I look today, at 36.

Though I resented it, I went out in the street to clean off the pavement the broken glass bottle and the glue that had spilled out of it, thrown out the balcony by my mom. I shouted that the one who had made the mass should be the one to clean it up. Still I went out and did it, as my mom wouldn’t. She elbowed me out and locked the door, so there I was – a fat teenage girl, in shorts and slippers, a baggy T-shirt, and I could have been spotted by a boy I was in love with. I was mad, helpless, frustrated, and … I marched downtown to the construction site where my dad was telling the workers what to do, and I told him, “She is your wife. She made the mess. You should take care of her.” He asked me to calm down and go home, so … I went back to clean the mess.

I have so often cleaned up other people’s mess. I have so often believed that if you see a chocolate bar wrap in the street and you just pass by without picking it up and throwing it into the bin, you are as responsible as the person who dropped the wrap on the pavement. So, whenever my boyfriend failed to give money to his ex-wife for his daughter or buy new boots for his child, I was the one to drag him to the store and pay for the boots, etc.

However, I feel that not all situations are equivalent. Yes, I still believe that whenever I can, I should try to prevent people from harming other people, but … should I try to prevent them from harming themselves?

If I always clean up a person’s mess, will he ever learn how to do it on his own, will he ever grow up?

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Why should I suffer?

“I am willing to suffer … for all eternity, if this [is] possible”, wrote Mother Theresa in a letter. I had always believed that Mother Theresa was HAPPY with what she did throughout her life. However, her secret correspondence  with a number of spiritual confidants reveals a half century of suffering, darkness, a feeling that Jesus had left her, doubt in God’s existence, loneliness. She found some relief in thoughts of her future sainthood – she imagined herself as the saint of doubters, those “in darkness”. Hm.

Some people believe that the published collection of her letters MotherTheresa: Come Be My Light will help people who have lost their faith and sunk into the darkness of suffering and doubt. I wonder what the book’s message to them will be – that they have the potential to suffer even better, that, of course, suffering will take them to Heaven, and they should dream of eternal suffering?

Well, I have never thought masochism to be  a normal state of human nature, and I have never thought of helping a sufferer through encouraging him to suffer even deeper (unless I intended to help him faster realize he had suffered enough).

I believe that every bit of suffering could be transformed into something to help people on their way to happiness – the essential state, the core of human nature.

However, so many people seem to believe that there is some chic in suffering, that suffering somehow sends you on a higher plane, above other people. One of the most popular Bulgarian folk songs is a dialogue between a young man and a young woman, discussing whose pain is greater. Another one explains that a mom should be respected more than a girlfriend because the former mourns her son till her death, while the latter stops mourning her lover soon after his death.

Suffering gains people’s respect. It’s recognized as some kind of achievement. I have listened so many times to women discussing their periods, pregnancies, birth labour. I have always wondered why my fast and painless giving birth or my lack of cramps  and pregnancy indisposition should make me a less worthy person. Why should my generally good health and fast recovery make me a less worthy person? Or the fact that I earn more than many people around. Or the fact that I love my job.

I don’t see why, but even I am not immune to this pain fad. I often feel somehow guilty and subconsciously doubt my being worthy of my luck to have been born in an educated well-to-do family.

Some people believe that Mother Theresa’s suffering makes her even holier because she went on helping people despite her pain. OK. Let’s imagine Mother Theresa had been happily married to Brad Pitt rather than Jesus, she had been rich and famous, aided by her husband in her work. Would that have made her less worthy? Would that have made her impact smaller? Hm. Perhaps people would have doubted her motives then, saying that she was doing it as an expensive PR campaign. OK, but if she went on doing it for years? Then they would start realizing the truth that she did it out of love and compassion.

When Mother Theresa was the icon of love, many people believed her to be an unreachable saint. I have heard so many people say “You should be Mother Theresa to do that”. How could the happy Mother Theresa have been a good role model for average people in the west, then? Still she used to be a good model for monks, nuns, volunteers on missions, etc.

How could she be a good role model now? The lesson the suffering Mother Theresa could teach is that helping people makes you sad and lonely, but holier. How many people would be keen on following this example? How could that help make the world a better place?

I think people do need heroes, but I don’t believe these should be Greek tragedy sufferers. They need to see people who are happy to help other people. Thus, the old Mother Theresa was a much better role-model than the new one. And Angelina Jolie is better than both. The best role models for the average middle-class person, however, are neither saints not stars. They are ordinary people who are happy with what they have and what they give.

As for the new Mother Theresa, what I feel for her is deep compassion. I am not disappointed with her, but she cannot inspire me. Well, I’ll write about that later.

You should be able to some extent identify with someone, in order to take him as a role model. Here’s why you could expect a text on why I will soon make a great face in advertising targeted at the aging population. You might also expect more texts on children and teenage heroes, and … heroes in general.

Why should I give people what they want?

People often want a thing, believing (often unconsciously) that it will make them happy. As helping people get happy makes me happy, I often give people what they want. It often doesn’t make me happy … because my gift often turns out to be useless, as the person who got it, actually didn’t move an inch toward happiness. I have experienced too many wastes of time, money, effort …

It happens often because too many people rarely know for sure what they really need, and there are so many people who believe giving is essentially good.

If you are a compulsive giver, you are compelled to give whenever you see the slightest sign of pain. Just like a doctor, you sometimes give people  a pill which is known to cure a certain disease. Sometimes you just give them placebo. Sometimes you hit, and sometimes you miss.

A compulsive giver most often gives whatever a person wants, but does a patient always know which pill is the right one for him? By giving people whatever they want, you often poison them or don’t let them cope on their own.

Then what should I do when people want things from me and I really want them to be happy? Give them sugar-coated poison?

As I am a compulsive giver, which means I give on impulse, I should stop and think before giving. Well, yes, I don’t have time to do that if someone is drowning (or seems to be), but most often this is not the case.

I might not be the wisest person to always know best, but I am smart enough to make an educated guess – to find out what giving my gift might lead to.

It takes time, yes. Sometimes it’s easier to give – it’s faster, and you don’t bother think. But sooner or later it comes to you – the bitter feeling that you have wasted something. And the feeling of waste doesn’t make ME happy.

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