4 People Who Really Are Making the World a Better Place
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.
"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.
The Dalai Lama
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.
"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.
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.
"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.
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.
Yes, I mean the same Russell Brand you think I mean -- English comedian and actor, sorta musician, shaggy beatnik, and dude who maybe would bang your mom if he had a few minutes with your back turned. I don't mean that in a derogatory way; he just strikes me as the kind of guy who would fuck my mom.
I spent a good deal of time justifying the presence of Stephen Colbert on this list for his humorous contributions to the betterment of mankind, but I have to include Russell Brand not for his comedy, as it's hard to really support Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and instead for his earnest sincerity. I may be completely wrong, he may be a far more brilliant actor than I ever imagined and has snowed me completely, but when Russell Brand speaks, I believe him. And he speaks about things like people having value. He speaks about people deserving better than what they have.
What's remarkable about listening to Russell Brand advocate for the little guy and wax philosophical is that you can tell he's not taken seriously at first by those who give him a forum. He's a shaggy-haired miscreant who makes goofy faces and seems drunk all the time. But, agree with him or not, one only has to listen to him for at most five minutes to understand that he's not an idiot, and treating him like one is what makes him that much more profound.
In this MSNBC interview with Brand on their morning show, the three hosts clearly thought they were embarking on a puff piece with a foolish guest, but the absolute spanking Brand dishes out, the way he humiliates them with a smile on his face and good nature in his voice, is stunning. By two and a half minutes into the interview, it's clear that Brand is on another level, discussing the posthumous iconography of influential people like Gandhi, Jesus, and Malcolm X, while the morning show crew is still stuck in a realm where the color of his boots is fascinating. When they begin to discuss him like he's not in the room and then get his name wrong, he treats them like children and explains why their entire careers are pointless.
Brand routinely tries to drive home the point that what he is is not what causes happiness. He has fame and money, and that did not make him happy. He advocates for self-awareness, meditation, and an understanding of yourself and your place in the world you inhabit. But more than this, his concern is for removing old, narrowly focused power structures that only serve the minority -- he's a man who wants everyone to benefit from the policies we put in place, an idea at once so brilliant and yet so fundamentally opposed to what we accept as normal that it sounds insane, or people would derisively dismiss it as "socialist." Is it socialist (i.e., wrong) that everyone should benefit in a society? How can that be? That everyone is treated equally and fairly? Brand doesn't agree, and is using his fame and influence to try to spread that message, to get people to realize there are other ways, better ways, ways that may not even exist yet but can be created by us, because we don't live in someone else's world, we're not slaves to a greater authority. We're all citizens of the Earth, and we all deserve to be on equal footing. Amazing idea.
As a devout sinner, I feel awkward singing the praises of the pope, but I can't help but admire this man. The idea of the Catholic Church being corrupt is so ingrained in us as a society, so cliche now, that to see a pope doing good things is almost stunning. You expect the pope to pay lip service to Catholic doctrine from high atop his bullet-proof Popemobile while he teeters and he totters like Jesus' forgotten Weeble. He says nothing that makes the world change, he does nothing that makes the world change. The church gets richer, people die of AIDS, children get molested, and man, there is no really proper punchline for this sentence.
Suddenly Pope Francis shows up, and what does the man do? He trash talks his own organization. Too much greed, too much corruption. Why do cardinals have expensive cars and big houses? You're supposed to live like Jesus did. Off to Detroit with you!
Pope Francis' tyrannical reign of good sense and humanity continued by suggesting that atheists can still go to heaven, because being good and being Catholic don't have to go hand in hand. You can be both, or just one or the other. Holy balls! For the first time in 2,000 years, a pope decides that maybe people of other religions are decent human beings also. Maybe people of no religion are decent. Maybe being good is just about being human and not everyone reading the same book.
"Have you read it? No? Then enjoy eternal fire in your dick hole."
While stuffy, old fart Catholics the world over reeled from Francis' proclamations, he tossed out a few more that dumbfounded everyone. He told the world the church is too obsessed with issues of gay marriage and abortion and that focusing on those puts doctrine ahead of what the church should be about, which is love and inclusion. What the hell does that mean? It means you don't have to support gay marriage, or abortion, or even condoms, but shut up about it and help the people who do support those things, because that's your fucking job. God loves lesbians, so stop being a dick and love them, too.
Now it even looks like Pope Francis leaves the Vatican at night to minister to the poor on the streets, giving them money and food while in disguise as a normal priest. He puts his thurible where his mouth is, and it's kind of amazing. This man just wants everyone to be good to everyone else. How insane is that? How can people still criticize him for it, too? It's pretty crazy, but here's hoping he's able to really open some eyes as he keeps on keepin' on.