Among the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves is the gift of self-improvement. This not only includes treating ourselves well but also encompasses the way we view and treat others. With increased age, the desire to live up to our full potential generally grows. There’s a tendency to move away from controversy in favor of inner peace and making greater lifetime contributions. Others can inspire us to be more like them; to be happy, hopeful, giving, wise, inspired, and courageous. Here are some examples:
HAPPY – Erma Louise Bombeck (1927-1996) This American humorist teaches us to live life with a smile and seize the day. This favorite funny lady authored a witty and clever syndicated newspaper column that described suburban home life from 1965 to 1996. She also published 15 books, of which most were best sellers. Bombeck shared experiences with humor. “All of us have moments in our lives that test our courage. Taking children into a house with a white carpet is one of them.” Valuable lesson shared by Bombeck: “Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.”
HOPEFUL – Annelies Marie “Anne” Frank (1929-1945) was a German-Dutch diarist of Jewish heritage. She hid with her family and four others in 1942 from the Nazis during the occupation of the Netherlands. Six people helped the families in hiding. Two years later, the Secret Annex was discovered, and Anne and the other occupants were sent to concentration camps. It is unknown how the police found the hiding place but were likely acting upon a tip from an informer or discovered it by accident. In 1945, Anne died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Of the family, her father was the only survivor. During her time in hiding, Anne wrote in a diary she had received on her 13th birthday. In her book, Anne shared her thoughts and feelings while hiding in the cramped Secret Annex of her father’s business premises. The helpers preserved Anne’s diary. Her book not only shares important historical information but also explores Anne’s emotional journey. Her writings leave a strong impression from which we can learn the dangers of discrimination, racism, hate, and evil. Anne dreamed of being a writer and left behind messages of hope and wisdom beyond her years. Valuable lesson shared by Frank, “Where there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.”
GIVING – Audrey Hepburn – born Audrey Kathleen Ruston (1929 -1993) – This British actress was a film and fashion icon. The American Film Institute ranked her as the third-greatest female screen legend from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Despite a rough childhood, including her parents’ divorce and surviving Nazi occupation to include fear, depression, and malnutrition, she became a gifted ballet dancer and movie star, performing in such great films as Roman Holiday, Charade, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the musical film My Fair Lady, and others. In 1988, Hepburn accepted the role of special ambassador of the United Nations UNICEF fund to help children in Latin America and Africa. Her humanitarian nature teaches us that together we can fulfill our desires to give and help others and invest in a better future for all. Valuable lesson shared by Hepburn, “A quality education has the power to transform societies in a single generation, provide children with the protection they need from the hazards of poverty, labor exploitation, and disease, and give them the knowledge, skills, and confidence to reach their full potential.”
WISE – Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) This third U.S. President was an American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect, philosopher, and Founding father. He served as U.S. President from 1801 to 1809 and had been the second vice president of the United States from 1797 to 1801, under President John Adams. Jefferson, principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776), was a spokesman for democracy. Though today he is labeled a paradoxical hero, and historians are sorting out some conflicting beliefs and practices of the time, Jefferson must be remembered for his important contributions to promote “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” A valuable lesson shared by Jefferson, “Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.”
INSPIRED – Oscar-Claude Monet (1840-1926) This French impressionist painter teaches us to be inspired by nature. The beloved artist was considered a prolific practitioner of the movement’s philosophy of expressing one’s perception of nature regarding landscape painting and plein air (the act of painting outdoors). Though critical acclaim grew with time, most of his works are highly recognizable today, especially those of his water-lily pond at Giverny that served as inspiration for his art. His art and contributions would become greatly admired using nature as his subject matter and a fresh technique and color palette. Valuable lesson shared by Monet: “The richness I achieve comes from Nature, the source of my inspiration.”
COURAGEOUS – Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (1913-2005) This American activist played an important role in the civil rights movement and was known for her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Rosa Parks gained recognition as “the first lady of civil rights” in the United States Congress, as well as being called “the mother of the freedom movement.” On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks rejected a bus driver’s order to vacate a row of four seats in the “colored” section when the “White” passenger section was filled. This resulted in her arrest. This would initiate the Montgomery Bus Boycott political and social protest campaign, consisting of peaceful protests to change racial segregation laws and promote equality. Valuable lesson shared by Parks, “To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try.”
These great individuals provide a small sampling of those who have imparted valuable teachings during their lifetimes. Each unique story, act of bravery, or wisdom conveyed encourages us to be our best selves, to be kind, fair, and helpful to others. In seeking positive role models in life, we can clearly use their lessons as guiding lights towards self-improvement.