Before we get too deep into this, I want you to know I don't believe in magic. I don't think any of these people have ever fought a Balrog outside of Street Fighter, and they probably can't make flashlights out of twigs and a hunk of quartz. But I do think they represent purity and goodness of purpose in much the way our friend Gandalf the White did in the world of Middle-earth. And it's both funny and tragic that I feel the number of people in the world who aspire to monumental goodness is so small that I could fit them in a list article.
But at the same time, I'm so in awe of them that I had to put them in a list article, because for every article I write about talking dildos, people who get eaten by their pet tigers, and monsters of depravity I saw on Craigslist, these people are still waking up every day and thinking, "Welp, time to improve my entire species and the world in which we live," and as near as I can tell, it's not a joke, a plot, a hypocrisy, or a smoke screen. It's the real deal.
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"You shall not pass! Or, no, that quote doesn't fit here. Eh, fuck it."
After the death of Nelson Mandela, I worried briefly that we had lost one of the good ones. And of course we did, but there are others -- the sorts of people who are so rare in the world, who want to make everything better for everyone. No ifs, no conditions, no special interests. My God, it's almost unheard of.
#4. The Dalai Lama
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In the simplest terms, for people who are as ignorant as I am of the world outside their front door, the Dalai Lama is the pope of Buddhists. He gets to be reincarnated too, so that's pretty badass. The current Dalai Lama is the 14th one, and all things being equal, he seems like a really decent guy.
Not only is he the leader of Tibetan Buddhists and a guy who seems happy to share the faith with everyone, but he also uses his position to travel the world and speak on topics as diverse as women's rights, economics, sexuality, animal welfare, and all kinds of others that he approaches with a pretty liberal outlook. For instance, even as a monk, he's not opposed to homosexuality and believes everyone has a right to tolerance and understanding. That's some modern-day thinking right there for a guy who's been reincarnated for over 1,000 years.
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"Salutations, I'm as old as shit. Indubitably."
Born as a monk and identified as the Lama when he was still a child, the Dalai Lama does all his good works having never had a drink or sex, which, I have to be honest, blows my mind. I can't imagine having the willpower to do good works without at least the ability to rub one out every so often, but hey, there's a reason I'm not the spiritual leader of millions. So he does all this forward thinking with that kind of shit weighing him down each and every day, not to mention how China has been kind of oppressing Tibet and the Tibetan people, including the Dalai Lama, for his entire life, and would probably disappear him good if he went back there. This all stems from an uprising back in 1959 when the Lama was forced into exile.
In 1989 the Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize for his 40-year effort to bring peace between Tibet and China through nonviolent means, despite the many lives that had been lost during the campaign. No matter China's stance, the Dalai Lama has always advocated peaceful resolution through communication and understanding, a point of view that has to be hard as hell to stick to when you have monks lighting themselves on fire and people being dragged by horses in front of crowds as a method of showing you what you were in for if you kept up your Buddhist shenanigans.
"Look at this bell. Man, shit's crazy."
So you have a man who's been exiled from his homeland after a bloody uprising failed to free his people, never had sex, never partied hard with awesome celebrities and dancing girls, and never wavered in his message of peace and understanding for decades. That's a dude who believes in goodness.
#3. Stephen Colbert
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Who would dare compare Stephen Colbert to the likes of the Dalai Lama? This guy (picture me pointing at myself, looking dapper and maybe a little sextrous). Some may argue that any point I'm trying to make is wholly invalidated now, and to that I say you are close-minded and silly and have no idea how the world works. Take my hand and we will explore enlightenment together, you and I.
To deny the influence and power of a man like Stephen Colbert in our world is to put your fingers in your ears and scream like one of those pop culture goats we keep seeing on YouTube. Television and film personalities are hugely influential in the world at large; one needs only see the stats on how many wingnuts stopped vaccinating their children as a result of Jenny McCarthy's brain farts to understand that. And we should be thankful that, amid the Shia LaBeoufs and Kanye Wests, we have a man like Stephen Colbert, who makes it his job on a daily basis to expose the utter stupidity of the world we live in through hilarious satire.
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"Man, fuck me in my skuzzy ear."
Colbert has appeared more than once on TIME's list of most influential people in the world, and his show has even won a Peabody, among numerous other awards. Traditional news organizations like CNN and FOX have had to deal with the fact that more people under the age of 25 get their news from The Colbert Report and The Daily Show than the networks.
Is Colbert's point to make you think "Oh God, I've been wrong all along, I must vote Independent?" No, not really. If you've ever argued politics or religion with anyone, you know you won't change anyone's mind, and Colbert isn't trying to change your mind either. But there's a vast difference between changing someone's mind and opening it, inspiring it. And if you watch him work, you'll be exposed to the insanities and hypocrisies of the world in which we live in ways no other news anchor would ever consider.
Why is what Colbert does important? Because his influence is palpable. Colbert's super PAC to run for president of the United States of South Carolina raised over a million dollars, which he then donated to charity. What's more, he inspired students across the country to start their own super PACs. What the hell is a super PAC? It's a political action committee that can raise a buttload of cash without disclosing much info about who donated it and where it went -- these can be serious financial supports for a political candidate, and it's obvious to see how they could be corrupted. After Colbert introduced Super PAC Super Fun Kits, Politico reported that 2.5 percent of registered super PACs had been started by the Colbert nation: real people wanting to effect real change, and a couple of goofy jokes.
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I couldn't find a good image for super PAC, so you get this.
It's through satire and intellect that Colbert consistently exposes the American political system (and media, and culture, and basically all aspects of what we live day to day), demonstrating the farce and hypocrisy, using its own language against it and allowing us, as viewers, a glimpse behind the curtain, to see the Wizard as he conducts his business. It's very likely only through the belief that he's "just a comedian" that he's gotten as much out of his character as he has, as traditional media and politicians fail to see how profound his influence truly is, how inspiring and polarizing his words can be.