While I have had many people that have influenced my life, I would say that I have 4 heroes that I like to talk about and about WHAT they did, but more importantly HOW they did it. In my home-office/man-cave, I have a tribute to each. As you read along, I am sure that you will find some common themes.
Most people think of Einstein as a weird old guy with crazy hair from the 1940s and early 1950s that had something to do with relativity and E=MC^2. The Einstein that I think about is the young Mr. Einstein who did his most spectacular work from 1902 through 1912. Not only did he completely break down common physics paradigms, but his methodology was completely unique when he started out and frankly has not been copied much since. The young Einstein was a very passionate, friendly, outgoing and social person. He liked to couple his curiosity with his social life. His method for understanding the most complex issues of the physical world, usually began with asking fundamental questions of his colleagues/friends over tea or spirits. They would discuss, argue and debate the most basic questions, like "What is light?" and "Why does time seem to be so important?". He would then go off on his own, for days or weeks at a time and ponder these questions, constantly mulling over the popular ideas of the day and the ideas and insights that came from his discussions with friends. Then in a turn, he would dive into his own mind and do things like imagine what it would be like to be a beam of light traveling through space. After spending an incredible amount of energy and time thinking of these things, he would purpose a solution that no one could imagine. To sell his ideas, Einstein would reduce his mental model and thought experiments (a common tool used in physics for hundreds of years) to a few elegant analogies that would make his peers wonder, "maybe he IS on to something". Lastly, he would devise the mathematics to show that his ideas were possible in the real world. By the time the mathematics was complete, his idea would be so refined and plausible that other scientists would take on the task of creatively figuring out experimental methods to attempt to prove or refute his conclusions. Einstein is a hero because he not only had the objectivity to put all possible thoughts on the table, but also because once he reached the point where he KNEW that something was correct, even if it defied current norms, he would work to make the idea palatable to his strongest critics, through the force of his strong will and use of his immense creativity.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky at a time with opportunities for African-Americans were not optimal, Muhammad Ali pursued his path to self actualization. In the 60s, Ali embodied the fears of white America, as a large, strong, aggressive, intelligent and arrogant black man. Many would say and even advise him to "tone it down a bit", for fear that he would create so much disdain among the establishment that regardless of his talent, he would not be allowed to succeed. Ali didn't care. If being strong and intelligent and arrogant bothered folks, that was their issue, not his. He worked to become stronger, more intelligent and more arrogant, as if to prove that his path was the right path and no one could derail him. Even his conversion to Islam was thought of as simply a way to avoid Vietnam, but as the decades passed and Muhammad's devotion to his faith continued, it was obvious that there was no lack of integrity in this choice. Muhammad Ali is a hero, not because he was a great athlete who accomplished much, nor because he will always be one of the most recognizable humans who ever lived, but because he lived as he was. He knew he was the greatest and he became the greatest.
Born a Prince and a spoiled one at that, The Buddha realized at an early age that living in the palace could not make him happy. When the Buddha left the palace with nothing more than a robe, a pair of sandals and a water flask, he had no intention of starting a revolution in human thought. Legend has it that he sat under a tree by a stream and decided that he would sit there until he figured out the key to happiness, connectedness and personal fulfillment. As legends go, this one isn't the most fantastical to believe, but whether he spent a few days, weeks, months or years under that tree, what resulted was truly remarkable. Through several hundreds of years of precise verbal transcription, within the early generations of the Buddhist following, until finally his thoughts were put into text, his enlightenment began to change the world. While Buddhism is a minority religion, by far and away practiced by far fewer people than Islam, Christianity or Hinduism, Buddhist concepts appear in most every culture in the modern world.
Simply put, the Buddhist ethic is three-fold.
(1) Anxiety, Fear and Negativism (greed, hate, guilt, etc..) are all rooted in attachment. Attachment to material things. Attachment to the opinions of others. Attachment to the anxiety, fears and negativism of those you love. Therefore, the path to a calm, peaceful, joyous existence (contentment) is a lack of attachment.
(2) Everything in the Universe (energy, forces, stars, rocks, gases, plants, animals) seeks contentment and therefore deserves full respect and autonomy to find it.
(3) The only way to appreciate and possibly achieve contentment is through "being present" all the time. Achieving full awareness. Full awareness can only be achieved through meditation (thoughtfulness).
To me the thing that makes The Buddha so interesting is that he was able to articulate fundamental principles that are purely humanistic. Being such there is no need for a deity or a set of behavioral rules. There is no need for the morality play or a struggle between good and evil.
Unique, creative, paradigm challenging and simple, yet elegant, Buddhist concepts are very compelling.
My Dad - Norman Knapp
Like Muhammad Ali, my dad was born near the Ohio River. Like Einstein he had a German sir name and a natural curiosity. Like the Buddha, he understood that material things could not bring happiness. Unlike my other heroes, my dad was never an Olympic athlete, a world famous scientist or the founder of a religion.
Norman Knapp was and is, just a man living a relatively simple life. Why then is he one of my heroes? Why does he have a special place on the wall in my office reserved for these other great humans? It may surprise you that his hero status has very little to do with the fact that he is my father. In fact that only connection between him being my dad AND my hero is that if he wasn't my dad, I would have never known about him. My dad is one of the kindest, most generous people that I have ever met.
He is just nice, friendly, funny, smart and caring. That's it. Nothing spectacular to be seen on the surface. However, when you think about it, how many people do you know who genuinely embody kindness, generosity, humility and concern? Probably not many.
My dad always worked a lot when I was a kid and between work, taking care of my sister and doing my mother's bidding, he and I spent very little time together. However, I always felt his presence, his humanity, his essence, everywhere I went. As we got older and spent more time together, I learned to appreciate just being around him. No agenda, nothing to accomplish, just being in proximity of each other. I remember countless times that my dad looked silly or unorthodox while performing a task. I remember countless disappointments and failures that me or my family put on him for the results of some endeavor or other. But, I NEVER remember my dad seeming to feel uncomfortable or feel disappointed or feel like he was a failure. Somewhere inside his psyche the idea that he was any different or any less of a human than the next person, could just never gain ground. My dad is always comfortable in his own skin.
There are three things that my dad told me that I will never forget.
(1) There are two kinds of people in this world. One kind wakes up every morning and complains about everything that they don't have and how miserable they are. Me, I am the other kind. I wake up every morning and can not believe how great my life has been and how much I enjoy living.
(2) You know, this is going to sound horrible, but while I loved your mother more than anyone ever, I don't miss her as much as I thought I would after she died. Its like my life just goes on and hers does not and such is the way of the world. Some of my friends have lost a spouse and they moan about it all the time. I just don't understand that attitude.
(3) Money is like a pretty woman. Its nice to have, but you can live without it.
I hope that you can learn about who I am and how I think, based on not only my choice of heroes, but on the reasons why they are my heroes.
6 months ago