Mike On Purpose

Finding purpose in the twenty-first century

Every Day is a Choice

Posted by mikeonpurpose on August 13, 2010

I’ve been reading the book Bonobo Handshake, a memoir by Vanessa Woods that tells of her experiences in the Congo working with bonobos.  She writes in her book about an incredible woman named Claudine, who has tirelessly given of herself to the operation of a bonobo sanctuary.  At one point, Claudine’s husband was facing a serious health crisis, which served to threaten her ability to commit to her work in the sanctuary.  Woods writes:

I realize I think of Claudine as something more than human.  Like Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandella.  These people, they save the world and you assume it is because they are programmed to do it, like Pavarotti was meant to sing and Lane Armstrong was meant to ride a bike.  But it isn’t that simple.  Every day is a choice.  A choice that gets harder and harder.  Claudine has a husband who needs her, children who get angry with her.  She is an ordinary person.  It’s just that she does extraordinary things.  (P. 178)

I think this emphasizes the point that when we set the Mother Teresas of the world apart from the rest of us, when we make them into saints, it makes it easier for the rest of us mere mortals to make excuses for ourselves.  Well sure, we might tell ourselves, Mother Teresa or Gandhi did all those extraordinary things–but that’s only because they are saints.

But the reality is that all of us are, deep down, the same–mortal human beings who are faced with life choices every day.  The decision to reach out and help others is not something that only saints do  And it is not something that these “saints” do on autopilot.  All of us have hard choices to make in our lives, are often pulled between various duties and responsibilities–and that is true as well for those we idolize for their service to the world.  Instead of looking at the people we admire as somehow far removed from us and what we can do, maybe we instead should remember that they, like the rest of us, make hard choices in their lives, and that we can make a difference by the choices we make, even if “only” in small ways.  But small ways matter, too.


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