Most Admired

I suppose the results are a month old now, but I just came across USA Today’s 2011 Most-Admired People list. USA Today and Gallop Poll has been around quite a while–according to the article in USA Today Gallup first asked the question in 1946.

Before I make any comment on the lists, I suppose I should share the results…

Most-Admired Men
1. Barack Obama
2. George W. Bush
3. Bill Clinton
4. Billy Graham
5. Warren Buffett
6. (tie) Newt Gingrich
6. (tie) Donald Trump
8. Pope Benedict XVI
9. Bill Gates
10. Thomas Monson

Most-Admired Women
1. Hillary Clinton
2. Oprah Winfrey
3. Michelle Obama
4. Sarah Palin
5. Condoleezza Rice
6. Laura Bush
7. (tie) Margaret Thatcher
7. (tie) Ellen DeGeneres
9. (tie) Queen Elizabeth
9. (tie) Michele Bachmann

Several things come to my mind immediately when I look at these lists. First, the majority of the individuals on the combined lists are politicians (or wives of politicians), but there are more on the list of most-admired women (8) than most-admired men (4; 5 if you count Donald Trump as a politician, but I don’t). Second, the other most-admired individuals are all wealthy and successful in business or are religious leaders in the case of the men, or are successful in the field of entertainment, for the women. One might convincingly argue that Oprah is successful in business and entertainment, of course. Three, two of America’s ten most-admired women are not American, but British.

I suppose it stands to reason that politicians would be among the most admired individuals, because they are in positions of authority and leadership and they are often in the news, so they have substantial name recognition. I don’t have the numbers to support this assertion, but I would venture a guess that the sitting president makes the list most every year, and the same probably goes for the first lady. In fact, the USA Today article reports that Hillary Clinton has topped the list 16 times, more than any other woman, while Eleanor Roosevelt led it 13 times. Former first lady Barbara Bush has made the list 18 times. Adlai Stevenson, Jesse Jackson, George W. Bush and Hubert Humphrey have each made the list 7 times.

That there are three religious leaders on the list is not surprising to me, either. Billy Graham has made the list every year the poll has been taken, and has made the top ten on the list 55 times. The Pope is also a well-known and widely respected and admired individual. I did find it surprising, in all honesty, that Thomas Monson made the top ten because, quite frankly, I did not recognize his name. He is a Prophet in the Mormon church. Given that Mormonism has received considerably more attention of late, due in no small part to the fact that two of the GOP presidential candidates are Mormon, this is somewhat more understandable,but I find it interesting that Monson is the one making the list and not Mitt Romney. I looked at results going back to 2008 and Monson did not make any of those lists, though the Dalai Lama did appear several times in the past. For Monson to make the list indicates either than more people are looking into Mormonism and thereby know who he is, or that a disproportionate number of the survey participants are Mormon.

I think it is interesting that Warren Buffett and Bill Gates made the list, and that Steve Jobs didn’t. But Gates has made the list in every year that I checked (2008-2011) and Jobs never did. 2011 was the first appearance for Buffett, too. I also find it interesting that no athletes made the list in 2011. Michael Jordan has made the list seven times, but in 2011 no athletes made the cut. Apparently Tim Tebow finished just out of the Top 10, but he did finish ahead of the Dalai Lama. Actually no athlete has made the list from 2008-2011.

What does all this really mean, though? Well it does not mean much, of course, but there are probably some things that can be deduced from the lists. But lets ask first, what does it mean to admire someone? defines “admire” as “to regard with wonder, pleasure, or approval.” Looking up “admiration” does not add anything new to the definition, but it does provide these synonyms: “approval; esteem, regard; affection.” I guess esteem and regard are the two that come closest to what I imagine most people are thinking of as they answer the questions. After all, I cannot imagine anyone looks at any of the twenty individuals with wonder. I think the individuals are respected and appreciated for what they have done and what they stand for. Even when entertainers make the list I don’t think it is for their entertainment value. After all, Oprah is extremely influential and she is respected for her shows and media empire, not really because she entertains people. Ellen DeGeneres is entertaining, I suppose, but I cannot imagine that is why she made this list. More likely than not she is admired for her stand on homosexual issues. If she made the list purely for being funny or for hosting a talk show, she would have a lot of company on the list that she doesn’t have. Angelina Jolie has made the list a few times in recent years, too, but probably more for her humanitarian work and involvement in global issues that for her acting skills.

Ultimately what all of the individuals have in common, I think, is that they are willing to take a stand and be a voice for what they believe. Some of them do it more politely than others, some are probably taken more seriously than others, and some are more enduring than others, but all of the individuals on the list of most admired individuals are well known for what they believe and/or represent. Even Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are likely on the list more for their philanthropic efforts than for just having a lot of money.

If I were asked to name the people I admire most, I am not sure who I would name–especially if the list is supposed to include recognizable names. I suspect some of the individuals already on the list might make it. Some wouldn’t. But it is a question worth asking, both because it challenges me to think about, and the answer I would give will likely reflect more about me than about the people I choose to name. And what it reflects about me will likely indicate what kind of example I am to those around me–my wife, my children, my relatives, my colleagues, the students I work with…. The people I admire, the hobbies I have, the ways in which I choose to spend my time–they tell me, and others, who I am, and they do so much more meaningfully than anything I might say in response to being asked who I am.

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