Depending on whether one has a half empty or half full worldview, we’re either heading for Armageddon or on the brink of progressive evolution. I happen to think the half empty view is a slightly sad and counter-productive one because, really, what’s the point of it? If you’re right, so what…we’re all doomed. If you’re wrong, you’ve wasted your life being a pessimist. And that is a waste.
So while some bemoan the futility of change, others preach the sermon of lost causes, and a few maneuver through life with such cynicism and crankiness they’re a drain on even the sunshine, I choose to see the light. When right-wing acquaintances caterwaul that there is “no hope for compromise” in creating better gun laws, I choose to believe there is. When bitter conspiracists carry on about Obama’s dark arts and false equivalency on every issue from political parties, world leaders, and civil rights, I say all things are not equal; some things are better than others, some reasons are stronger demands for change, and some people are good people. Some people, in fact, are the best people. But yes, you have to be a half full person to see it that way.
So for all my half-full readers, I’ve chosen to honor the good ones who stood out to me, who transcend the norm in a way that appeals to my sense of righteousness. They are as mixed a collection as my 10 Worst, but after careful thought, this is the group that got the call, made the cut, leapt on the list.
The 10 Best People of 2012
In no particular order, but each uniquely deserving.
1. Maryam Durani: Maryam Durani is on this list because she does something that requires boldness, bravery and tremendous conviction, and she does it because she believes it’s important to do. She is the owner and operator of a radio station that focuses on women’s issue and she does this in Kandahar, Afghanistan, one of the most repressive countries in the world when it comes to the freedoms and rights of women. Chosen as one of “The World’s 100 Most Influential People,” Time Magazine reported that she has survived several assassination attempts but maintains not only her work promoting women’s rights, but is a member of the Kandahar provincial council. Anyone who stands up to the Taliban deserves a place on this list; a woman who takes that stand is a permanent member. If you’d like to Facebook “like” her, click here.
2. Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, NJ: I like this guy. I hope we don’t find out that underneath the heroic, compassionate exterior is a Rob Blagojevich or John Edwards. I don’t think so; he’s already earned such a high profile that if there were skeletons, they’d surely be dancing all over Twitter by now. So I’m going with good. Countless reports have covered his heroism, told stories of his compassionate responses to constituents’ needs; detailed his stand, loud and proud, for marriage equality, and on and on. He’s considering a run for the Senate and his growing, and glowing, public profile bodes well for his success. He’s one of the good guys.
3. Katie Holmes: This one likely surprises you but let me explain: in a world where celebrity marriages and divorces are typically blathered all over the media (Tom did his part there), Katie Holmes — after somehow getting raptured (coerced? brainwashed? bamboozled?) into marriage and parenting with über-Scientologist and couch jumper, Tom Cruise — lived her life as quietly as someone caught in that maelstrom could manage. And despite paparazzi, the persistent and pursuing cult; her celebrity and his, when the time came to extricate herself — for whatever reasons — she did. Rather than getting Gloria Allred or Bert Fields to raise a ruckus; rather than exposing every detail of her mysterious life to the media; rather than going for a big splashy denouement that would certainly have cast her as the protagonist, Holmes left with dignity; rebuilt her life privately; divorced discreetly; and allowed no one – not Tom, not Scientology, not the promise of some media payday – dissuade her from the clear decision to transition with grace. Maybe that seems like no big deal to some, but I see it as one of the best chapter changes a celebrity – and parent – with her exposure has ever pulled off, and for that she’s on this list.
4. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT): Bernie Sanders has become a phenomenon. Seen as a truthteller, he’s built a meme around himself that invites people of all ages and political proclivities to seek out his perspective and then … actually listen to what he has to say. Active on social media, he appeals to a wide demographic – particularly younger political junkies looking for the unvarnished angle – and what he has to say really makes sense. While other politicians parse, spin, equivocate and sometimes twist the truth, Bernie speaks from the hip and the heart. His political positions include support for campaign finance reform and universal healthcare; he’s pro-choice and pro-marriage equality; and he keeps very active on Facebook, where he speaks often of the need to balance the budget without reducing benefits to veterans, the elderly and the needy. He’s smart and he’s right. He’s on this list.
5. Dames Helen Mirren and Judi Dench: Age ain’t nuthin’ but a number and these two dames of drama make the whole business of getting older seem like the bat of an eyelash. In truth, given our cultural obsession with youth and beauty, they, no doubt, like every other actress whose aging process has been documented on camera, experience all the usual indignities and “for her age” kind of qualifying most women endure, regardless of the profession. But somehow these two have made it seem easier; no ghastly cosmetic surgery to ruin the planes and particulars of their faces, no wrapping frames in fashion meant to suggest youth but too often just seem silly; no unwillingness to stand, tall, proud, and in their 78-year-old (Judi) or 67-year-old (Helen) skin. They’ve brought sexy back to the older women, and done it with style, wit and panache. Media may reject most images of age, but Mirren and Dench have shown us how to do it. May they live to be 100 and then some, to always have a place on this list.
6. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert: This was a slam-dunk. There no two comedians, satirists, political observers who — so sharply and with such humor — illuminate and eviscerate the players, events, and hypocrisy that informs our political and cultural world. It is said that young people look to these two for the bulk of their news, choosing to see the world through the filter of mad, crazy funnymen. Given how candid and unvarnished they are, exposing truth and calling people on the carpet while keeping a smile on their faces, that’s not hard to understand. Mostly because they make us laugh – hard – and sometimes during the most difficult, confounding and controversial of times, they are deeply embedded on the good list forever and ever, amen.
7. Beth Howard, the “Pie Lady”: We all give however we can and this story of giving intrigued me mightily. I wrote about Beth shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting because she stepped up in a heartfelt and very sweet way (literally) to bring some warmth and cheer to a town that had been ravaged by the second worst mass shooting in American history. Beth makes pies, she’s made pies for years; she has a stand, a site and a truck, and after she heard about the tragedy, she packed up that truck, drove from her hometown of Eldon, Iowa, stopped along the way to collaborate with baker friends who helped her bake 250 apple pies, and off she went to Newtown, CT. She set up shop and started giving out pie to weary families, local citizens on the street, even the children who were traumatized by the events … and from what they told her, pie never tasted so good. See the whole story here, but trust that this is one person who baked her way to my 10 Best!
8. Robert Redford: An iconic, eternally handsome, and very busy actor, director, and conservationist, Redford earns a place on this list not only for creating the Sundance Institute with its deep commitment to nurturing and mentoring filmmakers, as well as sponsoring the best film festival in the world (The Sundance Film Festival), he’s also a passionate supporter of “green” technology, conservation of green land, and the exploration of responsible alternative energy. He most recently teamed up with Pitzer College in Claremont, CA (one of the seven Claremont Colleges) to create the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability, a program funded by a $10 million donation by Nicholas and Susan Pritzker, parents of school graduate in the field of environmental causes. Any man who puts his time, effort and beliefs into action toward sustainability and the greater good of the planet gets my nod.
9. Caroline Titus, newspaper publisher, The Ferndale Enterprise: It’s hard enough running a weekly “ink & paper” newspaper when you’ve got a big staff, a healthy budget, and the resources to cover every story that makes the news; it’s another to be a one-woman show in a tiny farm town in Humboldt County in Northern California, and still, every week without fail, put out a newspaper that has won countless awards, broken stories later covered by The New York Times, and garnered recognition as a tough, fair, but very candid news source. Impressed by her doggedness in getting the job done almost singlehandedly, sometimes with the help of friends and family, but out on every Thursday (keeping a 134 year tradition!), I profiled her in the Huffington Post in a story about “Women of the News.” Since then she’s continued to push for transparency and truth in covering the news of her area (Ferndale, CA), sometime at the cost of negative pushback from those less interested in that goal…but always with persistence, fearlessness, and a willingness to take the heat for the sake of the story. Keep up with her on Twitter.
10. Matt McQuinn, Alex Teves and Joe Blunk; heroes of the Aurora shooting. When a madman with a gun walked into the theater in Aurora that was showing Dark Knight Rises and opened fire, killing 12 people and injuring many more, these three men, Matt, Alex, and Joe, each reacted in a way most people hope they’d react but wonder if they would: they shielded their girlfriends’ bodies to protect them from the gunfire and as a result, all three were killed. Their girlfriends survived. There’s no act as noble and courageous as literally sacrificing your life for someone you love, and Matt, Alex and Joe made their shattered families proud. They were beloved by those families and their many friends, and certainly by the women they died for. Valor doesn’t get much greater than this and their stories touched every person who heard them. Click the link above to read about these heroes, who truly are the good guys in a very bad story.
So there you have it, the 10 Best People of 2012. Take some time to click their links and give them a moment of your attention. They deserve it; they did good.
[And to view the other side of the "best/worst" spectrum, visit my companion piece, The 10 Worst People Of 2012.]