Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Tested for Ten

I recently came across the following question on a test.

Name 10 of the most influential people of the 20th Century and, in three sentences or less for each person, explain who the person is and the impact he or she had.

As it turned out, I wasn’t taking the test, but I tried to imagine what I would write if I were.

The key word, of course, is “influential.” To whom? Are the sheer numbers of those influenced important? Influenced how? For good or bad?

For me, personally, I’d list my parents, who lived entirely within the 20th Century. My dad was a urologist; my mom was a kind of amateur mystic and, well, Mom. For better or worse, I am what I am because of them. Hey, I owe my existence to them. Now that’s influence.

But I think the test designers had something else in mind. They wanted to learn about “influential people” who might test awareness beyond the test taker’s mother, father, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, teachers, Little League coaches and friends.

I’m also thinking that the test givers might be weary of some candidates whom all the other test takers are certain to mention. Folks like FDR and MLK.

Consider going for surprising, but none-the-less, valid candidates, like Edward Bernays, the “Father” of Public Relations, or “Big Brother,” Orwell’s fictional creation who has taken on a life of his own, or Yogi Berra, seer of the not-so-obvious obvious.

Then there’s the question, what does “of the 20th Century” mean? Could a candidate live previous to the 20th Century to influence it? Several religious figures (Jesus, the Buddha, Mohammed) come to mind. And what about Marx, Locke, Thoreau and Rousseau? They are alive and well in today’s world.

But enough question begging. At some point the test-taker must set pen to paper.

Here are ten, in no particular order and in much less than three sentences:

Walt Disney, because everyone needs a fantasy or two — or two hundred.

Jonas Salk, because everyone needs a life and his vaccine saved millions of them

The Wright Brothers, because we need to get around, fast and faster. (or do we?)

Hugh Hefner, because we need to be OK with sex.

Rosa Parks, because we ALL should be able to sit anywhere we want.

George Orwell, because we need unvarnished truth-tellers — and clarity.

Adolf Hitler, because humanity has a Dark Side and (still) needs to learn how to oppose with it through some means short of war.

Lee Harvey Oswald (or James Earl Ray), because a single bullet can, alas, change history.

Mohandas Gandhi, because virtue has nothing to do with money or possessions, and everything to to do with spirit and justice.

Louis Armstrong, because who and where would we be without music?

That’s a list, not THE list.

What’s yours?

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