When it comes to inspirational people, history has a plethora of extraordinary names to offer. From the worlds of science, religion, philosophy and politics, narrowing them down is no mean feat. The most inspirational people are those who have made a lasting contribution towards creating a better world. These people have inspired others by their various achievements, but also by their attitude and values. Some of the characteristics of inspirational people include;
- Don’t accept prevailing beliefs and conventional wisdom as necessarily the truth
- Energy, enthusiasm and motivation to make a positive contribution to life
- Work from the best motives to help others rather than to boost their ego and worldly name and fame
- Seek to see the good in others and bring out the best in other people
- Seek to act in harmony and unite people rather than divide them
- Able to offer inspirational art, music, literature which rises above the ordinary to give mankind a glimpse of higher realities
Here are the 20 most inspirational people in history.
1. Nelson Mandela
Mandela stands as one of the most famous champions of equal rights, his headstrong pursuit to rid South Africa of its apartheid regime changed history. He spent 27 years in jail for his opposition to apartheid. After his release, he became the first President of Democratic South Africa and helped heal the wounds of apartheid by his magnanimous attitude to his former political enemies.
2. Martin Luther King Jr.
Luther, arguably one of the most important names of the 20th century, fundamentally underpinned the mass non-violent civil rights movement and inspired an entire generation to rethink racial equality. He inspired millions of people, black and white, to aspire for a more equal and just society, eventually ending institutional segregation across the country and picking up a Nobel Peace Prize and Presidential Medal of Freedom on the way.
3. Sir Isaac Newton
A name taught about in every science class the world over, Sir Isaac Newton is undoubtedly one of the most inspirational people to have ever lived. Accomplished in the fields of mathematics, theology, physics and astronomy, his radical thinking resulted in ground-breaking revelations and caused waves among the contemporary science community that would have effects for every generation after. Most famously, his discovery of gravity laid a base for all modern sciences, but he was also the first person to calculate the speed of sound and made great strides in the study of light.
4. Mikhail Gorbachev
Had the courage, tenacity and strength of character to give up the absolute power of Soviet Communism. Gorbachev moved the Soviet Union towards democracy and respect for human rights. In doing so he enabled the Berlin Wall to come down and Eastern Europe gained freedom from Communist control.
5. Jesus Christ
Prophet and the inspiration of Christianity. Taught a message of love, forgiveness and faith. He was born in a turbulent period of Roman rule, and after his crucifixion, his message inspired millions around the world.
6. William Wilberforce
Fought tirelessly for ending the slave trade, at a time when many accepted it as an ‘economic necessity’. He awakened the conscience of many of his fellow countrymen and helped to make slavery appear unacceptable.
7. Mother Teresa
A modern day saint who sought to identify with and offer compassion to the unloved and destitute. Fundamental to the prosperity of all, Teresa chose a voluntary life of poverty in order to help others. She instigated entire generations to selflessly aid others and fearlessly taking on world leaders to tackle inequality. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and was canonized in 2016 by Pope Francis, becoming the Patron Saint of Calcutta.
8. Albert Einstein
Einstein’s theory of relativity still reigns as one of the most influential and significant scientific breakthroughs in history. As the developer of the most famous equation in history, E = mc2, he, quite rightly, earned a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 and published more than 300 papers during his lifetime, making his name synonymous with the term ‘genius’. Not only was he a formidable scientist, he was also an active voice for human rights, campaigning for a more peaceful world and ardently denouncing the creation of atomic bombs.
9. Helen Keller
Despite disability of both deafness and blindness, she learned to read and write, becoming a champion of social issues and helping to improve the welfare of deaf people.
10. Charles Darwin
Darwin’s radical thinking propelled the entire theory of evolution to the forefront of scientific exploration. At a time when religion held a firm grip on societies the world over, Darwin’s theory of natural selection as set out in on the Origin of Species was deemed blasphemous and heretical. It took undeniable bravery, courage of his convictions and a great belief in the evidence he had uncovered to stand by a theory which, ultimately, formed the basis for much of modern biology.
11. Leonardo da Vinci
One of the greatest minds in human history. In many areas, he was a couple of centuries ahead of scientific discovery. He helped make great advances in anatomy, astronomy, physics, science and in other fields as well. Amidst all this, he found time to paint the most iconic picture in history – The Mona Lisa.
12. Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks became a well respected figurehead of the American civil rights movement. Rosa showed what ordinary people can do when they stick fast to their beliefs in testing conditions.
13. Mahatma Gandhi
Gandhi was the principle figurehead of the Indian independence movement. Taught a philosophy of non-violence and peaceful protest.
14. Florence Nightingale
Nightingale volunteered to nurse soldiers during the Crimean War. Her statistical analysis of the pitiful conditions she found, and her management of them, helped to revolutionise the service of nursing and the treatment of patients.
15. Harriet Tubman
Tubman escaped from slavery but returned on many dangerous missions to Maryland where she helped lead slaves to freedom. She also served as agent and leader during the Civil War.
16. Winston Churchill
In the worst moments of 1940, the Nazi war machine looked invincible as it swept through Europe. Not only did he inspire the British nation to be impervious in the face of danger, he did so for the entire allied forces as well, and is widely credited with halting the spread of fascism and protecting liberal democracy in Europe.
Socrates showed the power and integrity of independent thought. He taught by encouraging people to honestly question their preconceptions. His method of self-enquiry laid the foundations of Western Philosophic thought.
18. William Shakespeare
The revered king of literature, Shakespeare’s writing grappled with and reflected the very nature of humankind. An actor, playwright and poet, his works changed the way in which people thought about themselves and contemporary society, thus changing the entire English speaking world forever. His plays and poetry captured the richness and diversity of human existence in the most powerful and poetic way.
19. Eleanor Roosevelt
Helped draft United Nations declaration of human rights. Strived to improve civil rights in the US. Inspired many people because of her positivity, compassion and self-giving.
20. Edward Jenner
Led pioneering work on the development of an inoculation against deadly smallpox. Opened up the way to more immunisation treatments, arguably saving the lives of millions of people around the world.