History books often provide us with stories of inspirational people who stood up and made a difference in their communities, cities, countries, and even the world. But too often, facts that paint those figures in a negative light are omitted from the annals of history in an attempt to prop up those persons as something greater than human.
At the end of the day, though, they're just like us, they're human, and humans are oft to use poor judgment in decision making. The following list offers a brief look at some of the transgressions that have been brought up against some of history's most inspirational and complicated figures.
Although Mother Teresa of Calcutta was heralded for her strong sense of service, humanitarian aid, and displays of faith in Christianity, and even awarded the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize, the recently canonized saint has a checkered past at best. Claims of fanaticism, fundamentalism, and other hits at Teresa's character were brought up well before her death in September 1997 and even more so after during her 2003 beatification and 2013 canonization processes. One of the most egregious claims against Calcutta stims from the horrid conditions of her clinics scattered across the globe.
A piece released by Knowledge Nuts before Calcutta's canonization paints a depressing picture of her medical facilities:
"The reality is far grimmer. According to those who've volunteered there, Mother Teresa's missions are squalid cesspits run along violent, authoritarian lines. There are reports of unruly children being tied to beds and beaten, of outdated equipment not being replaced, and of needles being reused in countries with high HIV infection rates (such as Haiti) until they were so blunt they caused pain. All of this wrapped up in a culture of unquestioning obedience, secrecy, and control that is said to resemble a cult."
The article goes on the explain that "only 7 percent of donations to the organization were used for charity. The rest was funneled into secret bank accounts or used to build more missions. There are reports that missions won't even buy bread to feed their inmates, preferring instead to rely only on donated food."
Calcutta once received a $1.25 million in stolen money that she later refused to give back once the true nature of the donation surfaced.
Not all saints have to be good people.
For much of the past four decades, Oprah Winfrey has made countless contributions to society. She brought up topics no other daytime talk show host and media mogul wanted to touch, she gave numerous authors, actors, musicians, and other artists jumpstarts to their careers, and she gave out luxurious gifts to her live audiences every Christmas. But despite all of the good Oprah has given us, she has also helped introduce the world to quite a few pseudo-doctors, scientists, and other quacks in that same amount of time (i.e. Dr. Oz and "Dr." Phil).
If it weren't for Oprah, we probably wouldn't be dealing with all of the anti-vaxxers telling us that we are going to Hell for vaccinating our children (and dogs) because it was Oprah who first gave Jenny McCarthy the platform to peddle her claims that vaccines lead to autism in 2011.
In a deep dive into Oprah's transgressions, a Vox writer highlighted the following interaction:
"MCCARTHY: First thing I did --- Google. I put in autism. And I started my research.
WINFREY: Thank God for Google.
MCCARTHY: I'm telling you.
WINFREY: Thank God for Google.
MCCARTHY: The University of Google is where I got my degree from. ... And I put in autism and something came up that changed my life, that led me on this road to recovery, which said autism --- it was in the corner of the screen --- is reversible and treatable. And I said, What?! That has to be an ad for a hocus-pocus thing, because if autism is reversible and treatable, well, then it would be on Oprah."
John Lennon was the embodiment of the complicated man. He wrote hundreds of songs on topics such as love, peace, and harmony, but the man and the music could not have been farther apart from one another. Lennon long had a history of abusing his lovers, and when he was not hitting them (both physically and emotionally), the former Beatle was cheating on them. The torment he afflicted upon others wasn't reserved for his lovers. No, he was also known to chastise, berate, and beat his only son, Julian.
"It is a diary form of writing. All that "I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved" was me. I used to be cruel to my woman, and physically -- any woman. I was a hitter. I couldn't express myself and I hit. I fought men and I hit women. That is why I am always on about peace, you see. It is the most violent people who go for love and peace. Everything's the opposite. But I sincerely believe in love and peace. I am not a violent man who has learned not to be violent and regrets his violence. I will have to be a lot older before I can face in public how I treated women as a youngster."
Sadly, Lennon was never given the chance to face his past as he was gunned down by Mark David Chapman just days after the release of the interview.
It would be impossible to fit all of Thomas Edison's many transgressions in this article as the man who claimed to have invented the light bulb, motion pictures, and the telephone was nothing more than an early day patent troll and thief who made his name off the hard work of his assistants, contemporaries, and rivals. With that in mind, here is an example of Edison's true character.
In the late 19th Century, famed inventor Nikola Tesla moved to New York City to meet Edison, who promised the recent Italian immigrant that he would pay him $50,000 ($1 million today) if he could improve Edison's DC-powered motor.
A Popular Science article on the interaction explains that "after toiling for several months and making significant advances, [Tesla] returned for his reward, only for Edison to say, 'When you become a full-fledged American, you will appreciate an American joke.' Tesla quit---but the bullying didn't stop there."
The article goes on to state that Edison went out of his way to tarnish the image of Tesla's AC-powered generators through extremely disturbing means:
"Edison wanted to prove that the high voltage of AC power was too dangerous for public use, so he and his cohorts began publicly electrocuting animals--- stray dogs and cats, cattle and horses, and even notoriously, 'Topsy' the elephant."
Mahatma Gandhi has long been considered to be one of history's most poignant and inspirational figures for his role in the independence of India from English rule in the turn of the 20th Century, but his legacy has taken a hit in recent years.
In the 2015 book The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire, authors Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed argue that while Gandhi was more than eager to help with the betterment and freedom of his own people, he wasn't as willing to assist with the racial discrimination of English subjects in the African nation.
A BBC article on the book states that "Desai and Vahed write that during his stay in Africa, Gandhi kept the Indian struggle "separate from that of Africans and coloreds even though the latter were also denied political rights on the basis of color and could also lay claim to being British subjects."
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