If Mother Teresa and other contemporary saints all embody the individualistic ethos prevalent in our culture, they still outshine what any of us are ever likely to accomplish, or even aspire to, in bravery and devotion. In an era of so-called lite heroes, whose small deeds of virtue are overplayed in the media one day and are gone from view the next, these giants of compassion necessarily stand out as the genuine exemplars of high ethics and lasting goodness. Indeed, their example is a clear step removed from the valor we associate with ordinary acts of kindness and charity. It is not just to honor the courage and dedication of those who display exceptional compassion, though, that causes us to set them apart. We feel ambivalent about them, as we do with all heroes and villains. To understand further how ethical role models may serve American culture in the future, this chapter examines the nature of this ambivalence and how thoughtful people actually learn to benefit from the role models they love and hate at the same time.
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