This is an article I’ve been thinking about writing for a long time. It’s just been sitting in my queue for a long time, as I continued to feel that I needed to do more research in order to convey my message properly. But I think I have changed my mind. I think the idea that I am trying to convey can be better understood if one applies it themselves and doesn’t just have me listing of the flaws of famous people. Perhaps I have to explain things a little better before that sentence makes sense.
People talk all the time about people that are inspiring to them and most of this is due to specific things a person did, either in the face of adversity, or driving innovation. Many times, though, it can be found that these people who are great in the eyes of history for having done something great were much less than great in their personal lives, or even other parts of their public lives we rarely hear about. I could easily spout off a set of names of famous people who weren’t that great on many occasions, but that might just be boring and feel like padding*.
But does this lack of being great people in aspects of their lives we don’t remember them for make them less inspiring? One could say that it’s more subjective than that (the answer is already subjective) or that the punishment (of your future lack of being inspired by a person) should fit the crime better. A person who was a petty thief at times would be more inspiring than someone who did a thing equally inspiring but was a mass murderer. But that argument doesn’t entirely convince me.
This gets brought up a lot nowadays, especially when talking about Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla (for the record, both of them were crazy and didn’t treat other people very well). People having been brought up thinking Edison was a genius and being inspired by his story seem all to eager to jump on the Tesla bandwagon and talk about how much Edison sucked. But I’m not really convinced that makes Edison’s tale a less inspiring one. True, one shouldn’t strive to imitate the man exactly, but the story of a man with very little formal education becoming one of the world’s best-known inventors through almost sheer will is indeed inspiring.
I think that what “inspires” the newer generations shouldn’t be complete pictures of a person. While those should be disseminated and understood, it is almost necessary to look only at the good or great things that a person has done to motivate yourself. Telling myself the flaws of a “great” person is a de-motivator, and encourages my personal laziness. To say “Wow! If this person could accomplish that as 25 just think of what I could do?” is much more motivating than “Well, I’m 25 and I haven’t done that, but I haven’t gambled away my family fortune like him either, so I’m net even”. Almost every time.
*Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, John Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Nikola Tesla, Helen Keller, anyone who is famous for being a general (e.g. Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, George Patton, Bernard Montgomery, etc). And now I’m just tired of making a list, but basically any artist, writer, inventor, or politician seems to fit the bill.