There is an old saying that “every person is born an original but dies a copy.” When I first heard that observation, I wanted to argue with it. I immediately thought of people such as Benjamin Franklin, Mother Teresa, and Albert Einstein who were so unique in their thinking or approach to life that it seems slanderous to call them a copy of anyone else. Take Isaac Newton, for example. He formulated the law of gravity and invented differential calculus. Newton was certainly an “original.” Yet almost as quickly, I recalled a comment by Newton. He said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”1 He was acknowledging the debt he owed to those who had blazed the trail in science before him, especially Galileo and Johannes Kepler. Franklin and Einstein were also indebted to pioneering thinkers who preceded them; and Mother Teresa, of course, modeled her life of service on Jesus.
I still do not like the saying, however. Claiming that anyone is a “copy” denies our God-given uniqueness. Nonetheless, the saying offers a basic truth: No one arrives at who he or she is without being shaped by other people and events. In terms of our Christian faith, some of us have been fortunate to be mentored by godly people.