“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” – Joan Clarke
My husband and I went to see the movie The Imitation Game. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should.
The Imitation Game is a true story about Alan Turing, “a British pioneering computer scientist, mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, mathematical biologist, and marathon and ultra distance runner.” During World War II, as part of a top-secret operation, he designed a machine – essentially the first computer – that could decode intercepted encrypted messages that were transmitted by the Nazis. The information that Turing and his team uncovered enabled the Allies to thwart hundreds of military engagements; ultimately saving millions of lives and ending the war two to four years earlier than predicted. These acts of military intelligence were kept secret for almost sixty-five years. Alan and his team achieved the unimaginable and no one around them knew a thing about it.
Alan Turning is depicted in the film as being awkward, socially inept, and a loner. He was passionate about solving puzzles; all that mattered to him was cracking a code. While he knew he was gifted, he wasn’t seeking fame, fortune, or notoriety. He simply was focused on getting a job done. For him, the work – in and of itself – was the right thing to do.
Can you imagine spending years inventing a machine, using it to defeat an enemy, saving millions of lives, and not being able to tell a soul? Can you imagine passing your days knowing that your personal efforts changed the course of time, yet others aren’t even aware of your involvement or that they should be indebted to you? Can you imagine being so selfless?
As I replayed the movie in my mind throughout the week, I wondered how many of us actually do things purely for the sake of others – with no expectation of recognition or reward. I remembered Maimonides’ eight levels of giving charity that we learn in Judaism. Specifically, the second from the highest level is to give to someone whom you do not know and who does not know you. This type of mitzvah is done only for unselfish reasons.
Sadly, our society socializes us to work for rewards, trophies, awards, prizes, bonuses, and other accolades. Without these incentives, many refuse to work at a level that maximizes their potential or benefits others. These forms of acknowledgment, as a result, are designed to motivate people to go above and beyond the daily “to do” list. (Sometimes these things even come one’s way for just showing up.) In addition to all this, the age of social networking gives people ample opportunities and platforms by which to brag about their various achievements.
I don’t for a minute want to lambast recognition vehicles or modern-day technologies. It’s been proven that the masses need and want them. I do, however, wish to celebrate those who are “under the radar;” people who seemingly appear from nowhere to accomplish a goal for the greater good.
Fame and fortune are great, but I aspire to do something unimaginable…quietly, anonymously, and altruistically. That would be a life well-lived.