I often wonder about the mark I will leave on this planet when I’m gone. It is common for us to be interested in our legacy. We want to stand out. We want to make a difference. We want to be unique. We want to be known for something.
But the truth is, you are only one in 7 BILLION people living on the planet today. A 2011 estimate suggests that at least 107 billion people have populated this planet over the course of all recorded time. Of those, only a rare few have made it into the pages of your 5th grade history book.
TIME Magazine ranked the top 100 historically significant people of all time. I was not surprised to see many religious figures on the list; Jesus (1), Muhammad (3), and Gautama Buddha (52). Philosophers and deep thinkers like Karl Marx (14) and Socrates (68) will find their names on the list, if they ever care enough to look. Way too many American presidents are on the list. Many church leaders, artists and writers win a spot; Martin Luther (17), Leonardo da Vinci (29), Shakespeare (4), Dickens (33) and Martin Luther (17).
Of note, and worthy of its own blog, only a few women made the list: Elizabeth I (13), Queen Victoria (16), and Joan of Arc (95). Seriously? You either have to rule a monarch or be burned at the stake to be an influential female.
But here’s what I realized as I thought about those 97 men and three women on TIME’s list: A list of 100 people in a world populated by 107 billion is absurd. People change the world, influence history, make a difference each and every day. You just don’t know their names. They might not free slaves like Lincoln (5) or start wars like Bush (36) or conquer the world like Caesar (15), but they leave a mark, just the same.
For instance, who created the perfect cup of coffee? I don’t know his name but he changed my world. How about Napoleon’s (2) mother? She helped shape the little man, for better or worse. Why isn’t she there to get a little credit and share a little blame? At the very least, an honorable mention should go to the guy who invented indoor plumbing. And while we’re on the subject, how about a nod for the genius who developed softer toilet paper?
If it were up to me, I would have added Neil Armstrong (101) for, oh, I don’t know, walking on the moon, and Rosalind Elsie Franklin (102) for truly discovering DNA.
Over the course of history, men and women fought tyranny and oppression by storming beaches, hiding refugees, and standing up for what is right and against what is wrong. Millions fed hungry children, provided shelter for the homeless, helped the hurting, and held the hand of the dying. We will never know their names. We will never know the full story. They are the anonymous masses that make life bearable. We only know the world is a better place today because of their selfless, courageous acts.
And that’s the lesson, isn’t it? Not everyone can or should grow up to be President. (Of the 472 million people who were born American, only 44 of them ever took the oath of office.) But everyone, every single one, can make a difference. They CAN leave a mark. They can change the life of someone through tenacity, courage, creativity and love.
We may never make the list of the top 100 influential persons of all time, but we can, we must make a difference in the world. Starting today.