By John Lee
A lot of people are able to tell the story of Rosa Parks, the heroic African-American woman who became a symbol of peaceful resistance when she refused to give up her seat in a bus to a white passenger in 1955. Others, on October 5, 2011, mourned the death of Steve Jobs, praising him as a hero of computing technology through his work with Apple. And finally, still others may remember when Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
But what about Irene Morgan who was arrested for the same action of resistance for which Rosa Parks became famous? In fact, Morgan did it 11 years before Parks did, but Parks is seen as the pioneer. Who mourned the loss of Dennis Ritchie, the creator of the C programming language and Unix operating system which set the basis for Windows, Firefox, Playstation, XBox, Photoshop, Safari, and Google Chrome? Ritchie passed away only one week after Jobs, but his death was not commemorated. When will Irena Sendler get her Nobel Peace Prize for personally saving about 2,500 Jewish children from Warsaw, only to be tortured and left in the forest with all four limbs broken by the Gestapo? In her year of nomination, Al Gore won instead, for his work in spreading awareness of global warming.
Too many people throughout history have not been properly recognized for their outstanding achievements and contributions to the world, while others achieved fame and attention for actions as, or perhaps less, influential than those of the former. That’s not to say we should discount those who have been celebrated. Rosa Parks, Steve Jobs and Al Gore are still heroes, however, they are not the only heroes we should laud.
Even today, this occurs on a regular basis. Of course, most people in the world may never do anything as prolific as what Morgan, Ritchie, and Sendler did. But everyone should be recognized for the good that they do for others, no matter how big or small.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. And thus several aspects about the nature of humans and how people judge the influence of one’s actions are revealed.
First, people are attracted to big names. After Rosa Parks’ act of resistance, civil rights man Martin Luther King Jr. helped organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. The boycott was such an effective campaign that it brought much attention to King, who in turn called Parks “one of the finest citizens of Montgomery.” Because the now-famous King recognized Parks in this way, attention was transferred onto her, immortalizing her as a symbol of the civil rights movement. On the other hand, Morgan merely went to court, successfully had bus segregation in Virginia to be declared illegal, and disappeared back into her normal lifestyle. No big name like Martin Luther King Jr. recognized her actions until the late 1990s.
Second, people tend to only recognize actions that seem relevant at the time, though seemingly irrelevant actions can be just as influential. When Ritchie developed the C programming language and Unix, the field of computer technology was still in its very early stages. But when Jobs stepped into the picture, computer programming had already made enough headlines to attract some attention, even though it was Ritchie and other early programmers who got computer technology to where it was by the time Jobs came in. Ritchie was the opening performance, when all everyone came to see was the main show, especially as Apple began to take the world by storm through its innovative technology, though Jobs wasn’t entirely part of this.
Finally, people tend to lose interest very quickly, unless new things continue to happen. Sendler’s heroic efforts actually did get much attention. However, the horrifying events of the Holocaust, thankfully, are over. No longer is there a need for Sendler to save thousands of Jews. On top of that, in 2007, global warming continued to rise as an issue for people around the world to consider, and it continues to rise today. As temperatures increase throughout the years, people are more concerned with global warming than they are with the almost 70-year-old Holocaust. And so, Gore’s work still attracts interest, while Sendler’s is a thing of the past.
Thus, it is the unfortunate truth that not all actions will get the recognition they deserve. Sadly, sometimes these things need to happen at the right time and place for them to get any attention at all. But though these examples are very profound, the same lesson can be applied at a much smaller scale. It is a safe assumption to say that almost everyone has at least one situation in which they did something kind or innovative or helpful, but didn’t get recognized for it like they felt they should.
But, perhaps, we are missing the point.
Perhaps the very essence of doing good is the satisfaction that comes from doing the action itself, not the reaction that comes out of it. After all, there are two conditions in order for something to be truly a good deed: (1) It is done without being asked, and (2) it is done without asking for anything in return.