The acts and words of others influence us greatly.
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Baseball immortal Willie Mays recently turned 85 and as a kid I always had great respect for him. True, the Hall of Famer won his share of awards for his play on the field, but that wasn’t what impressed me about him. Even as a kid, I recognized his love for the game and how he was a student of it. He would watch everything on the field and had an uncanny ability of being able to steal the other team’s signs which gave him a definite edge. Some would only watch him when he was at the plate. I learned to watch him all the time. As a Little Leaguer, I tried to emulate his play, not just his physical abilities, but his never satiated curiosity of baseball. He was very inspirational to me and helped create a life long love affair with the game. So much so, I purchased an autographed baseball bearing his signature years ago.
Inspiration stimulates us to action, to try to do better, to exceed our own expectations, and represents the hot buttons we push to motivate ourselves. Inanimate objects, such as flags and other symbols, are important, but I’m not certain they truly inspire us. Music, poetry, and text stirs our souls, but it is people that truly inspire us. It is the imagery of the human figure we relate to, whether they possess a quality we wish to emulate or what they have been able to achieve in their lifetime, something which causes us to become envious of them, something we want to replicate. True, their words may be important, but its their symbolism we act on. Although inspiration can result from major actions, it can also come from simple deeds or lessons learned, something that strikes another like an epiphany and fills a void where one exists.
There are essentially two characteristics causing people to become role models for others, either who they are (their station in life) or what they have accomplished. As to the former, we look to others for guidance and leadership and invest our trust in them, whether it is a teacher, a coach, a member of the clergy, an officer in the military, a government official or whatever. We believe in what they say and what they represent, and as long as they maintain a clean record, they will always remain an inspirational symbol for others to emulate. However, should their reputation become tarnished, people will readily abandon them.
I tend to believe people are more inspired by the accomplishments of others who are measured by their ability to get things done, particularly in the face of adversity. They stood against the status quo and against all odds. Although we remember those who were successful, we also find admiration in those who tragically failed. It is the fight in their eyes that spurs us on. To stubbornly push on, not knowing whether we will win or lose. It is this courageous tenacity, to boldly go where nobody else has gone before, that people gravitate towards. It is their hard work, their sacrifice, their accomplishments that inspire people to action, e.g., “If he/she can do it, so can I.” Even if the person’s reputation is soiled, their accomplishment is not. Case in point, baseball’s Pete Rose; even if you think his reputation has been ruined, you have to tip your hat to him for his 4,256 hits, a major league milestone which will likely never be broken.
Those that inspire us tend to be quotable. There was either something the person said or a lesson they indelibly impressed upon our mind. This is particularly true of religious leaders such as Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Buddha, and Confucius. Their quotations help make the hard connection between ourselves and the other person.
The people who inspire us says a lot about ourselves, how we think, our interests and priorities. Whereas creative types might find inspiration from the artistic works of Pablo Picasso or the poetry of Robert Frost, others might find the genius of Albert Einstein more appealing. Many find inspiration in the work of Mahatma Gandhi. As for me, I see much of his work as admirable, but not inspirational. Instead, I find inspiration from other types of people. In addition to my family and religious figures, the following list of people have positively influenced me in my walk through life. See if you can glimpse into my personality.
Winston Churchill – I’ve read a lot about Churchill over the years and have even visited his home in Chartwell. His rise to becoming Prime Minister during the dark days of World War II is fascinating, particularly as he tried to hold Great Britain together until the New World could come to its assistance. As a writer, his “History of the English Speaking People” was magnificent. And as a cigar aficionado, I envied his cigar humidor featuring over 10,000 cigars. When I visited his home, I went to his study where I could imagine him working at his standup desk. I stood there for quite some time taking it all in. I think it’s Churchill’s defiance of Hitler, his oratory and immense curiosity about everything that I am attracted to.
Favorite quote: “Nothing can save England if she will not save herself. If we lose faith in ourselves, in our capacity to guide and govern, if we lose our will to live, then indeed our story is told.”
Abraham Lincoln – Lincoln was another favorite subject I studied. His rise to the Presidency and his ability to turn former adversaries into friends is a lesson for us all. I also admired his ability to stay focused during the Civil War, even under the weight of his own son’s death.
Favorite quote: “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”
Jack Benny – some may be surprised to see Jack’s name mentioned here. In addition to being a great comedian, he taught me an important lesson about teamwork. To Benny, it wasn’t important for people to tune in to see or hear him on television or radio, it was important for people to tune into “The Show.” He would be the first to recognize the contributions of his cast, the writers, his guests, and everyone else involved with the show. Because of his focus on teamwork, the Benny show remained in the Top Ten for years and years.
Favorite quote: “I don’t deserve this award, but I have arthritis and I don’t deserve that either.”
Ronald Reagan – It was interesting to watch Reagan’s rise to the White House. He came at a time when morale in the country was very low and I give him credit for finally ending the Cold War.
Favorite quote: “Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.”
Theodore Roosevelt – I read a lot about Roosevelt as he ascended to the Presidency. What always amazed me was his energy and zeal for life. He was far from being a physical specimen, but his enthusiasm was contagious, even when you only read it in print.
Favorite quote: “There are two things that I want you to make up your minds to: first, that you are going to have a good time as long as you live – I have no use for the sour-faced man – and next, that you are going to do something worthwhile, that you are going to work hard and do the things you set out to do.”
Billy Mitchell – the forgotten Army General who advanced the concept of “Air Power” and had the audacity of telling his superiors in the military they were wrong, even in the face of his own court martial. Mitchell was prophetic about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor by 17 years. He was ostracized for telling the military what they didn’t want to hear, the truth. I do this quite often myself.
Favorite quote: “In the development of air power, one has to look ahead and not backward and figure out what is going to happen, not too much what has happened.”
Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) – More than just his adventures around the world as documented in his many books, Clemens inspired me by saving himself from bankruptcy and saving the honor of his family by starting his career over again in his late 50’s. And as any writer who has studied his work can tell you, his mastery of the English language, his use of words and sentence structure was incomparable.
Favorite quote: “It is strange the way the ignorant and inexperienced so often and so undeservedly succeed when the informed and the experienced fail.”
So what does this list say about me? That I am attracted to people who are unabashed visionaries, not afraid of adversity, their resolve in themselves and their cause, and to rise above their limitations to achieve their goals.
As for Willie Mays, I was just glad to see him play the game he loved. My favorite quote of his was honest and something I took to heart, “In order to excel, you must be completely dedicated to your chosen sport. You must also be prepared to work hard and be willing to accept constructive criticism. Without one-hundred percent dedication, you won’t be able to do this.”
Even to this day, I keep his autographed baseball on the credenza in my office as a reminder. Say Hey, Willie.
Keep the Faith!