*Warning* This post contains massive amounts of self-introspection and deep thinking (which hurt the writer's brain a little). If you don't like introspection or deep thinking, think carefully about why you don't.
We are all influenced by great people, people who we hold as our role models. Most times, we don't know what affects us. Who is to say that Einstein affected me as much as I think he did? We can't look at ourselves in an unbiased light. So, what I say below may not have much truth, but I've thought a lot about it. So, here goes...
How do you know who changes you?
Everybody can, and may have to
The proffesors you hate
The watchman at the gate
Hell... even the designer of your loo!
The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.
- Albert Einstein
One person who has influenced me heavily is Einstein. He's one of the greatest physicists ever, and I am fascinated by his thoughts and stands on physics and other issues. One thing about Einstein is that it's easy to see where he's wrong on international issues. Most times he takes too simplistic a view, and is too optimistic. If nothing else, this has taught me to be wary of thinking in such a way. In physics, however, (aside from his stance on QM) he was almost always right. Always thinking differently, working hard, not minding poverty, but minding fame. A great role model.
Be very wary of opinions that flatter your self-esteem. Both men and women, nine times out of ten, are firmly convinced of the superior excellence of their own sex. There is abundant evidence on both sides. If you are a man, you can point out that most poets and men of science are male; if you are a woman, you can retort that so are most criminals. The question is inherently insoluble, but self esteem conceals this from most people.
The second, (obvious to those who know me), is Bertrand Russell. He was a mathematician, a philosopher, and much more. I love to read his essays on Atheism, Politics and Common Sense. He was a non-conformist, mostly a peace-lover, an agnostic, liberal in thoughts. I was first introduced to his writings in the 8th grade, through his superb essay "Intellectual Rubbish". If there's any man I've admired as much for his sense, it's Russell. The only thing about which I dislike the stand he takes is Religion. His stand is too extreme, I think. I am an agnostic myself, but I'd give more credit to religion than he does. I'd like to read more Russell, and I think will. He was just way cool (and witty) ;-).
As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world - that is the myth of the atomic age - as in being able to remake ourselves.
One more man I admire is Gandhi. He was, really, the new Buddha. Always looking for non-violence, peace. But he was clever too. He had personality, power, but honesty. I wish his philosophy was used and taught more today. He was sometimes too extreme in his superstitiousa and conservative ways (eg. he disliked sex, due to a personal tragedy), but the man had a lot of patience, a clear sense of right and wrong, a diplomatic mind, and very nice methods of convincing people.
A lot of other people have influenced me, among them, my good friends on the net and in real life. The thing about role models, though, is that you can know what they did wrong, look at them as flawed individuls, but learn from them and their mistakes. Role models are important, and it is important to choose them wisely.