As people develop new experiences and gain wisdom throughout their lives, their viewpoints will inevitably change. Many people may experience an event that alters their perspective on the world. Others may not change their viewpoint based on an experience, but such an experience can make them feel even more strongly about their cause. The former of these two descriptions applies to Albert Einstein; while known primarily for being a “genius” throughout most of his life, he changed his beliefs upon witnessing the rise of Adolf Hitler and used his wisdom to change the world as it is currently known. The latter applies to Rosa Parks; while she had fought hard as a civil rights activist before she refused to give up her seat on the bus on that fateful night, the experience pushed her to become a leader in the movement. A follower becomes a leader when they not only have developed the experiences necessary to identify with their movement, but also when they have a platform to make their voices heard.
Due to the brutality of World War I, Albert Einstein was a strong pacifist and supporter of Gandhian nonviolence. However, upon witnessing the rise of Nazi Germany, Einstein was forced to shift his views. While his pacifistic views never completely disappeared, Einstein took a more cautious approach in his beliefs (Slate Lecture 10-17). His awareness of the horrors about to occur in his country drove him to make a larger impact in international affairs. To begin his accelerated involvement with politics, he warned United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt about Germany’s experimenting with nuclear fission and possible possession of an atomic bomb (Einstein Video 2). The United States responded with the planned creation of their own atomic bomb, and Einstein’s changed mind regarding militarism led him to play a significant role in what is now called The Manhattan Project. Nevertheless, Einstein would never have the platform to play such a large role in the development of the bomb if not for his prior reputation as a physicist. As a result of the combination of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power and Einstein’s foundation as a notable figure in the world, Albert Einstein was able to make a difference in creating the atomic bomb to end World War II and transition into a leader rather than a follower.
Even though Einstein had already changed his mind once regarding his views on militarism, the results of the Manhattan Project pushed him to not only change his mind yet again, but also to become an even better leader. Concerned with the United States’ awareness of the potential consequences resulting from the bomb, Einstein penned another letter to President Roosevelt, emphasizing his “[great concern] about the lack of adequate contact between [scientists] who are doing this work and [Cabinet members] who are responsible for formulating policy” (Einstein, Letters to Roosevelt). Even though his communication was too late to change the United States’ mind about dropping the bomb, the outcomes of the resulting explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki led Einstein to fight for world peace. Einstein’s battle for issues such as international control of weapons and freedom of speech were complicated significantly by the Cold War, but he stood by his beliefs until his final days (Einstein Video 3). Looking back on Einstein’s life, it can be said that his experiences with changing his mind due to world events prompted him to become a leader, and his work with physics throughout his life gave him the platform to communicate his views with any audience.
Rosa Parks took a different path to leadership than Albert Einstein. While she was not nationally well known before the day she refused to give up her seat, she had always been a devoted follower in the civil rights movement. As a secretary working with the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People, Parks had previously helped organize a large network that would eventually make the Montgomery Bus Boycott a success (Parks Video 1). Upon Parks’s release from jail, her expanded platform drove her to not only take a larger role in advancing the civil rights movement, but also to inspire other African-Americans to spark their movements. Although the movements of activists such as Pauli Murray and Bayard Rustin failed to garner the same mainstream attention as Rosa Parks’s refusal to stand up, they demonstrate how one small movement can lead to another in a larger cause (Parks Video 3). During the years prior to the boycott, Rosa Parks played a role in the civil rights movement, but it was not until the night of December 1, 1955 when she finally had the people’s attention and the experience necessary to truly become a leader.
As proven by two influential figures driven by experience and desire for change, the path for followers to become leaders is paved by these aforementioned factors. Albert Einstein spent most of his life as a follower of Gandhian nonviolence, but his experiences with the world allowed him to be a leader both times he changed his mind on his militaristic beliefs. Rosa Parks never stopped fighting for civil rights, but the night of her arrest gave her the platform to make a larger difference in her movement. The way these two differ in their paths to leadership is that while Einstein had the platform and needed to gain experience to become a leader, Parks had the experience and never had a platform until her arrest. All in all, Albert Einstein and Rosa Parks show that both experience and being well known by the public are necessary to transition from a follower to a leader.
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