Monday musings - Role models
Are you a role model? Would it make a difference if you were?
As an older sibling I believe taking on the role as a role model came quite naturally. Like the instant sense of responsibility parents feel when they hold their baby for the first time. Just as great is the pride of an older sibling given the opportunity to teach the little person all they know. Even if what they know doesn’t reach further than how to tie your shoelaces and how to ask mom and dad for candy with maximum return of effort. Because it makes us feel proud to show what we know. Because we like to help others. This is what people who are afraid to ask for help are being taught. Why should you be afraid when you are actually doing them a favor? People love to help other people. It gives them a chance to show off, feel competent or useful if their motives are slightly more noble. And we are all role models to someone, even if we might not even know it. Although when we think about it, we do know don’t we? And knowing comes with responsibility.
Yet, every published celebrity interview seems to include the question “who are your role models?” and never the more interesting and scarier question; to whom are you a role model? Combine this with the repeated denial by same interview objects that they want to be seen as role models and I get it. Being a role model is hard. Nowadays you could almost say you would have to be perfect?
A child’s first role models are their parents and weather they do a good job or not, their ways are the one we primarily learn. Even the best of parents are flawed, raising beautiful little kids into beautiful flawed human beings. Family and parenthood is seen as an important cornerstone in building society even by the most critical and conservative amongst us. And even the most critical and demanding amongst us would have to admit that such a thing as a perfect parent does not exist. How could it, when it’s a learn on the job position?
If we can accept that imperfect parents can raise wonderful kids, why can we not accept this for the people we have deemed role models. Who are these people anyway who has to be all things to all people and can never put one step out of place? Be perfect please, but at the same time be nothing so you can not offend anyone. If being a role model has become impossible to live up to, aren’t we missing out on a lot of wonderfully inspiring people who are afraid to step into the limelight because of the wave of critique and shaming that would follow. And can you imagine people starting to claim straight out that they want to be a role model to others. Who do they think they are, the pope?
I have often thought about how the current generation superstars, who through the reach of social media have an undeniably greater influence than ever before choose to be unpolitical and inoffensive in their image building. There are the exceptions. The Beyoncé’s (although it took her a long time), the Emma Watson’s, heck even Kim Kardashian who has on several occasions spoken out on matters that are important to her. Naturally being heckled for it. I read a statement by the wonderful Jesse Tyler following him being shamed on Instagram for expressing a political opinion. The sentiment went out that he should “stick to acting”. Mr. Tyler rightfully fought back and expressed that he as an influential actor has the same right as any teacher, accountant or nurse to speak out on what he believes to be right. The same responsibility to be informed. How have we arrived at a point at which people with influence that reaches beyond their own social circle are not allowed to have an opinion and thus avoid having them at all costs?
Suddenly they fall in the “role model” category and thus stop being people with spirit, opinions and the will to improve their surroundings. Characteristics that seem to fit a role model if ever I saw one? Surely we do not believe that a “role model” is based on looking picture perfect on Instagram, being liked by “everybody”, never have had an opinion in your life, living a materialistic life sponsored by major brands, never upset the status quo and also perhaps, be a blank sheet so that I can project anything on you. This is what upsets me when reading influential people stating that they do not want to be a role model. They are making themselves a blank sheet and give up their right to be a living, breathing person with feelings and opinions. Is that success model our kids are aiming for? Be perfect and empty, get rich quick! We are all people with feelings and opinions, we are all role models. We are all political. How can we not be when it’s our lives and world at stake?
If we want a world wherein the generations following the millennials are not lethargic towards anything other than their own universe of followers we have to allow people to be opinionated, to be involved, to be passionate, to be imperfect, to be disagreeable and to see themselves as the wonderfully imperfect role models they are. Worthy of our respect for trying to be more than nothing.
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