WANTED: A real hero, not for worship but for inspiration. Must be thoughtful, principled, willing to take risks for the right reason, passionate, motivated by love and not attention-seeking. Can be living, dead or drawn from the imagination.
This is my ad for those inspirational persons who can serve as role models/paragons for upcoming generations. It is spawned, in part, by a recent Reader’s Digest poll of over 1000 Americans that purported to identify “which individuals and the ideals they represent” have earned our trust. Topping that list: Tom Hanks, followed by Sandra Bullock and Denzel Washington. Of the top 10 persons, all were in show business except for Maya Angelou (#5) and Bill Gates (#7). Ow! While I’m sure each of these individuals are nice people and have admirable principles, surely they should not be regarded as our culture’s paragons of virtue. So I began compiling a list of sung and unsung heroes who should have topped that and other list of most admired people. I invite you to fashion your own list while you read about my inspirational heroes:
George Harrison – a fitting selection for a ‘sung’ hero. While well known for his recording with the Beatles, Wilburys and his solo career, Harrison earns my hero nomination for something totally different: his very public expression of Love and inner peace. Harrison was an instensely spiritual and intelligent man who had a thirst for knowledge, finely honed sense of humor, ambition, a keen attention to detail and iconoclastic. After his otherworldly experience as a Beatle, he dedicated the remaining 35 years of his life studying and talking publicly about his pursuit of peace of mind and happiness/bliss. He held his own journey out for others to observe and learn. To discovery more about the little-known heroism of George Harrison, the video below should start you down the road of getting to know this uniquely deep man who tasted unparalleled success and chose, instead, to feast upon the spiritual and thoughtful life.
Burt Lancaster – Most everyone knows him as an actor who made a string of popular movies in the 50s and 60s. I met him while I was studying at UCLA in the 70s. I found him to be a vital and unusually bright man who sat in a chair on campus and invited students to discuss the issues of the day with him. The only topic off-limits: movies. He had a remarkably keen mind and combined with his formidable eloquence and charisma, Lancaster made for a great debating partner. During the two years I attended UCLA, I had the honor of talking with him — sometimes one-on-one, sometimes in a group — about philosophy, history and public affairs. I found him to be remarkably well read (it is reported that he sought to read at least one book a day), a committed pacifist and deeply motivated to bring important stories to the public. He pioneered independent movie production and produced important films such as Rocket Gibralter, Local Hero, Twilight’s Last Gleaming, Buffalo Bill, The Swimmer, Birdman of Alcatraz and too many other important, provocative films to list. He was a very active philanthropist and served as an important role model for those who met him. Some in the industry viewed him as arrogant, controlling, impatient and infuriating. He was likely all that, as well as extremely adulterine. Yet, the stories he created and his unwavering commitment to truth, thoughtfulness and perfection always stayed with me and hopefully always will.
Abraham Lincoln – A no-brainer, perhaps. Best known for presiding over the American Civil War and his immortal speeches, my view of Lincoln is a bit different. Sharing a birthday with him led me to study the man; I’ve read most all of his speeches, letters as well as biographies about him. I found Lincoln to be amongst the most remarkable writers of the past two centuries. He was literate, thoughtful and concise, combining the soul of a poet, the precision of a scientist and the skill of a rhetorician. Like my other heroes, he boasted a great sense of humor, an attention to detail, tendency towards iconoclasm and a commitment to pacifism. He was a remarkably talented manager and leader able to facilitate collaboration amongst very strong and contentious personalities. Based upon principle, compassion and contemplation, he dared to take many unpopular stands. While his opposition to slavery has received much attention, he was deeply spiritual but an atheist, patented the design of a ship, and created land-grant universities (one of which is my alma mater UCLA). He was a remarkable man with a remarkable mind and a horrible chooser of a spouse. Oh yeah, he is also alleged to have preserved the Union. But that’s a much more complicated story.
Eleanor Roosevelt – is best known as FDR’s wife. Yet, she was an accomplished woman in her own right: caring, compassionate, willing to take heat for unpopular stands and she overcame great shyness to become a major figure in the world’s largest stages. When you delve into the woman behind the legend, you find strong, energetic woman who was one of the first outspoken public figures to support Civil Rights reforms and a principal force in getting the UN to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She confronted Joe McCarthy’s Un-American Committee and would not back down from charges that she befriended communist sympathizers. Eleanor was the eyes, legs and soul of her husband, traveling throughout the country and world while her husband served as President. She volunteered with the American Association for the UN and was an American representative to the World Federation of the UN Associations. Appointed as a UN delegate by two presidents, she also served on the National Advisory Committee of the Peace Corps, was a long-time Board member of the NAACP and chair of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. Although she was ill with aplastic anemia and tuberculosis during the last years of her life, she refused to slow down, advocating for human rights, civil rights, and women’s rights in a fashion that no First Lady ever had nor has done since.
Jean Luc Picard – What? A captain of a fictional starship as a hero? He was conjured up by Gene Roddenberry and a corps of talented writers to serve as a the model leader. He was designed to be a hero for our times as well as future generations. But unlike some of Roddenberry’s other fictional creations, Picard was a hero possessing great nuance. Drawing upon his intelligence, inquisitiveness and ingenuity, Picard empowered those who served under him, sublimated his own ego, relied upon ethics even when inconvenient and had the soul, patience and long-view of a diplomat. What also holds him in great stead is the fact that he was a literate romantic who loved music, art, and a courtliness born of his commitment to nobility. His enduring legacy is bolstered by the hundreds of articles and blogs that have been written about his leadership style and wisdom. Even in the 24th Century, he will be regarded as the truly perfect model of a modern major general who balanced duty with an iconoclasm that allowed him to solve problems with out-of-the-box thinking.
David Bowie – When an artist as vital and original as David Bowie died in January 2016, a little bit of all of us died with him. Referring to Bowie as an aging rock star is like referring to Albert Einstein as a smart guy or Steve Jobs as a guy who built computers. Bowie extended the boundaries of music and theater, as well as how we all perceive ourselves. We were all hugely honored to have been the beneficiaries of his searching. Keep firmly in mind that the world is 4.543 billion years old and we somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie. How fortunate were we! For those wanting to learn more about his work, you must visit Pushing Ahead of the Dame (a excellent compilation of all of his music) and David Bowie News.
John Wooden – John Wooden was, arguably, the best educator of the 20th century — and perhaps the last few centuries. He was also a remarkable man who taught essential and enduring life philosophies that have touched the lives of millions. His “pyramid of success” will be his enduring legacy. The fact that he was the most successful coach in high-level competitive sports is merely a testament to the power of his “success” doctrine. Wooden taught that life was not a struggle for material accumulation, but always about individual skill and personal development within the framework of a team and community. And he proved his doctrine in the most unimaginable and impressive manner ever done in professional sports. This video summarizes this doctrine, but greater understanding of his remarkable legacy can be found at his teaching institute’s website and this documentary.
John Oliver – It’s difficult to justifying mentioning a TV comedian with heavyweights like Lincoln, Roosevelt, Harrison et al. Yet, Oliver is more than a comedian; he’s a change agent. He’s parlayed his time in the limelight building upon work done by Jon Stewart at the Daily Show, Stephen Colbert at the Colbert Report, and his comic predecessors like Al Franken, Chris Rock, Dick Gregory, Will Rogers and even Bill Cosby — an outspoken but deeply flawed man who dedicated much of his life as an agent for change. Oliver is the public face of a group of writers and producers who are endeavoring to tackle tough and underreported stories. In less than two years, Oliver and his “Last Week Tonight” team have worked to effect serious changes including for-profit college fraud, abuse of chicken-farmers, unfair bail bond rules, Net Neutrality, FIFA, private use of military surplus vehicles….the growing list is partially cataloged here. Recently, his show was recently cited in an appellate court decision! He and his writers/producers may not be a full-fledged heroes yet, but they arecertainly on the road to herodom if he continues down the path that he’s helping to forge.
Eric Holthaus – Holthaus, who until recently covered weather for the Wall Street Journal, declared that he was going to stop flying to reduce his own carbon footprint. He doesn’t own or use a car, doesn’t eat meat and recycles, but realized that his 75,000 miles per year logged in the air was contributing to the planet’s CO2 problems.
Kyle and Josh – Who? Check out Give Back Films on YouTube to see how two young adults are using viral videos to finance a series of “pay it forward”messages. In less than one month, the videos have generated over 2 million views and have inspired countless numbers of people to think in terms of “giving back”. As importantly, they are assiduously avoiding talking about themselves as much as the satisfaction they are getting from bringing “pay it forward” to the next generation.
The Olivet Eagles – They are a football team located in Michigan and they demonstrated real teamwork when they devised perhaps the most memorable football play in a long time. CBS News captured the story and the middle-school kids who not only gave love but learned an important life lesson that they graciously shared with the world.
Politizane – This freelance filmmaker produced one of the most provocative videos in 2012 — viewed by over 13 million people to date. He posted it on YouTube and let the public debate begin. He has remained anonymous and has not produced any further videos (our loss) and he didn’t break any laws in bringing this disturbing secret to light. But he has taken an important and complex concept and made it accessible to the public without resorting to distortion or rhetoric.
Janette & Alan Murray – a couple in their 60s who not only talk the talk but run the run. In 2013 they ran 365 consecutive marathons to complete a run around the continent of Australia. More impressively, Janette is a breast cancer survivor and both adopted a raw, vegan lifestyle to beat the cancer and prove to the world that food and fitness can bring about remarkable qualities of life. They are a remarkable couple in many ways.