Oct. 17 marks 40 years since the Nobel Prize for Peace was awarded to Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Mother Teresa’s life and example are so defined by her selfless service that her name has become something akin to products like Band-Aid or Xerox. While many companies make bandages or copy machines, these two names were so widely known for their quality that the names have fallen victim to genericization.
Genericization is a term given to companies whose product names are so engrained into our culture that the name of the company or product comes to represent even products made by other companies.
Mother Teresa, now St. Teresa, led a life that was so dedicated to serving the poor that her name is applied in the same way calling someone “Einstein” is to call them a genius. She chose a life of poverty as a way to identify with the poor. She was called to serve, and when she received credit or awards for this work, she shared the credit.
In her acceptance speech in December 1979 she said, “I am grateful and I am very happy to receive [the Nobel Prize for Peace] in the name of the hungry, of the naked, of the homeless, of the crippled, of the blind, of the leprous, of all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared, thrown away of the society, people who have become a burden to the society, and are ashamed by everybody.” Her selfless service was not a bumper sticker. It was the defining characteristic of her life.
Even 22 years after her death she challenges us all to consider how we treat those who have nothing to offer us in return. Every one of us can offer respect and dignity to every person we meet. Every one of us can come alongside those who are hurting and let them know they are not alone. Every one of us can let people who society has thrown away know that they have worth.
When people speak your name, what comes to mind? What is the defining characteristic of your life? Are you spending your life in service to others, or in service to yourself?
Starting down this road is easy. Simply take a look around and find someone to serve. Maybe one day your name will fall victim to genericization for all the right reasons as well. Band Aid. Xerox. Einstein. Teresa. [Insert Your Name Here].