Although my picks of the 12 most inspiring people of 2012 might not be the same as your picks, I felt these people deserved to be recognized for their unique contributions this year. Even if you don't know all of them, each one in their own way has effected our thinking, our experience, and our lives, and will continue to have an effect on our world in 2013.
1. Ai WeiWei
This contemporary artist has reached a broad international audience for both his criticism of the Chinese government and the creativity of his dissent in the face of repression, blurring the lines between art and politics. A “dissident for the global age” he allows us both an unedited look into the effects of a repressive culture and the opportunity to reflect on our own repression, wherever that may be. For Ai Weiwei, freedom is a duty.
2. Warren Buffett
Despite the debunking by Snopes of the widely circulated “Congressional Reform Act of 2011,” congress has little love for Buffet. His outspoken belief that both millionaires and the super rich should pay more taxes is challenging one of the GOP’s long held tenants. Obama, however, seems to be supporting the “Buffet Bill,” making this billionaire one of those whose politics are making an impact on our lives.
3. Hillary Clinton
In her role as secretary of state, she has quietly but powerfully secured alliances and soothed differences among our allies, leading some to see her as a possible presidential candidate for 2016. Whether or not she chooses to run, this past year she was an inspiration for women leaders at home and abroad, showing both style and grace under pressure.
4. Salman Khan
One man trying to explain algebra to his daughter from across the world developed a teaching technique that now gives every kid a chance at a free, world-class education. On his website, you can learn everything from science to the impact of underfunded pensions on the economy. His egalitarian approach is bringing down the walls of private institutions, making it possible for lost geniuses (and the rest of us) to grow intellectually.
5. Oscar Pistorius
The double amputee who competed as an able bodied athlete in the 2012Summer Olympics, few will forget watching his story or his final race. Although he was eliminated in the semi-finals, his performance gave many a glimpse into the future, giving hope to millions of disabled people and inspiration to those of us who struggle to get off the couch.
6. Angela Merkel
The first woman Chancellor of Germany showed the leadership needed to steady the European Union as it struggled to survive the worst financial crises of its time. Despite intense criticism for her defense of German culture in the face of an increasing Muslim population, she is managing to amend her policies to best serve the reality of her countries shifting demographic without losing face. A neat political hat trick for any elected official, and one that no doubt other countries will be taking a cue from.
7. Kate Middleton
A middle class girl who stepped into the fairy tale/nightmare of the British Royal Family, she has demonstrated impressive style in the face of the demands of her status, returning glamour and excitement to the monarchy, and keeping her poise in the face of an ugly tabloid strip down – a true princess for our millennium.
8. Barack Obama
Loved by some, hated by others, and tolerated by many, Obama cannot be discounted. His economic plan to revive the middle class may turn out to be the biggest battle of his presidency, both defining and dividing us as Americans. Possibly the hardest working man in politics, Obama is evolving before our eyes to become the leader who inspired many to want to “hope and change” in 2008.
9. Mitt Romney
Despite the best efforts of his campaign, many moderate Republicans found themselves outside the walls of Romney’s America, and voted against him. If the GOP wants to survive in the new millennium, it’s going to have to radically redefine itself, and Romney’s brutal loss made that clear to all.
10. Ali Ferzat
A renowned Syrian cartoonist, for years he has caricatured leaders in the Arab world to great public support and sometimes to his peril – he was brutally attacked with both hands broken in 2011. This year his cartoons have produced even stronger statements against the Syrian government, and its president in particular, Bashar al-Assad. One of the iconic figures of the Arab spring, his work earned him the Sakharov prize for freedom of thought from the European government, proving you don’t have to say a word to make a powerful impact.
11. Bond. James Bond.
As played by Daniel Craig in the latest installment of the Bond franchise, Skyfall, Bond has given us what the Republican party could not: unadulterated pleasure in nostalgia without the hangover. Men can now dream once again of fast cars, sexy women, and sharp suits without having to worry about being called a metrosexual.
12. Craig Thornton of Wolvesmouth
Hidden in a shabby loft apartment in downtown Los Angeles lives a chef that is changing the face of both the cooking and dining experience. “The toughest reservation in L.A.,” his home is not your average supper club – his meals have been described by diners as “innovative,” “art,” “thought-provoking,” and “inspirational.” He does not cook for profit, making every bite of his quickly served, wolf inspired, 14-course plus meal resonate with the feeling of being loved just because you came to dinner.