Nelson Mandela — It’s very difficult, I suspect, for most of us to understand how a person could suffer not only as a member of an oppressed people, but to endure decades of sometimes brutal imprisonment and emerge a leader who attempts no retribution when he gains the power to do so. Instead, this man sought to forgive despite the clear and long-standing injustice. As a leader, he was temperate, thoughtful and wise. He brought at least some peace and justice to a deeply troubled land.
Jimmy Carter — Whether or not you believe he was effective during his term as U.S. President, Jimmy Carter is a model of public service, a doer of good deeds without seeking credit for what he and his wife, Rosalind, have done. A Nobel Prize winner, prolific writer and humanitarian, the former president has used his influence for peace, health and human rights, as well as a regular Sunday school teacher and hard working advocate for affordable housing.
Aung San Suu Kyi — ‘”It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” A steady but unpopular force with the rulers of her country, she works to bring democracy to what used to be called Burma (now Mayamar), a country isolated in many ways from the rest of the world. Aung San Suu Kyi was harassed and arrested before finally being allowed to take her elected seat in the government. Like the others on this list, this leader attempts to make the world a better place through peaceful means, though she could easily excite and cultivate a violent revolution giving her greater personal gain.
Dalai Lama– Even though there are fairy tale origins to his position as religious leader — aren’t they all, really? — the Dalai Lama exemplifies the concept of living a good life: empathetic common sense as the means by which we make choices in our lives and the way we govern. I can’t help but believe that there should be a place on a world court where such a calm reasoned approach would be valued, where such an incorruptible spirit would bring trust to the idea of justice. Unfortunately, the road to freedom for Tibet has been long and despairing. Even so, the current (14th) Dalai Lama is an effective proponent of optimism, dismissing the material rewards that come with fame. Like Christianity, Buddhism still struggles with issues surrounding women, and sexual orientation. And like the Pope, the Dalai Lama seems uncomfortable trying to reconcile his overall message of inclusiveness with the early dogma of his religion.
Pope Francis — I don’t subscribe to any spiritual doctrine and I have serious moral/ethical philosophical differences with the pontiff. However, with all the pomp and ceremony and public accolades, the former nightclub bouncer and chemist seems to be trying to operate openly. He has brought important issues out into the open for genuine public debate in a way that polarization might be avoided. Despite the Catholic Church’s continued backward stance, virtual blind spots on women’s and LGBT rights, Pope Francis has chosen to deal with previously ignored injustice to challenge the status quo regarding the inequality of wealth and health throughout the world. He does this by example and with honesty and compassion. He also understands the disastrous impact of climate change on humanity. If God is Nature, Francis is a breath of fresh air from a stodgy, nearly mummified, but inordinately influential institution. Regardless of the flaws some of us ascribe to him, he continually shows himself to be man of the people.