EDITORIAL: Mourning the death of the role model

by Jan 3, 2019OPINIONS






Role model = a person whose behavior in a particular role is imitated by others. (merriam-webster.com)

“When I grow up, I want to be like (fill in the blank).”  When I was a boy, there were those who I looked up to and strove to mirror. The difference in a role model and a hero were indistinguishable. Back in the day, we looked to men and women of “pure character” and “iron will.” They were almost superhuman in their integrity. They were able to maintain an appearance of nearly divine status. A good portion of those would not appear as mighty in the light of today’s media, including social media. Flaws and secrets were more easily hidden. Role models of my day don’t look as heroic as they did back then because, for the most part, things were exposed about them as I grew up that made them less than desirable as a role model. Nobody is perfect, even those we recognize as such.

Like it or not, we do not have role models today or at least, they are not easy to find. Oh, we have those who proport to be role models; those who attain recognition as athletes, entertainers, politicians, or entrepreneurs (who become politicians). And, we still admire their achievements. But, when it comes down to saying, “I want to be like them,” we inevitably stop short because we know that there is probably some skeleton lurking in their closets that might jump into our closet if we profess allegiance to those “role models.” There is probably some dirty laundry that we don’t want to have touch our lives.

For good or bad, we, the media, are, in large part, responsible for the death of the role model. The deep-diving characteristics of modern journalism and the voracious social media network have fed the appetite of the public to have every detail of a public person’s life. And, it is not up to the individual whether they become public people. It is up to the interest and whim of the media or public.

Those in sports, entertainment, and politics know that an element of being in those activities or professions is that their lives will be on public display. It is an occupational hazard because no matter how good a person may be, there is always something questionable, or something that could be spun as questionable.

I am convinced that many who find themselves in public eye would prefer not to be considered a “role model”. There are people who find themselves in circumstances that push them into the public spotlight that is, for the most part, beyond their control. Win an award, do a “heroic” act, reach a particular professional or personal plateau, and suddenly, you are in the spotlight.

When you become a role model, there is no time or possibility of going into the closet and clearing out the skeletons or changing history to make you more palatable. Your story is what it is. In years past, with no social media and less media coverage, it was possible to keep a lid on many of the bones in those closets. We live in a society of supposition. There was a recent commercial that played on the perception that “if it on the internet, it must be true.” Friends sharing undocumented and unverified material on social media has been the cause of the demise of many a celebrity and politician.

As a Tribe, we are a very close-knit set of communities, and we enjoy our social network. As we pass information one to another, some of that is fact and some gossip. And many times, the more outrageous a tidbit of information is, the more we want to spread it, regardless of the status of verification.

So, I think it is next to impossible for a person to be a role model in our society and our Tribe. And, we must look with caution at those who profess to be role models. Regardless of intention, a person who says they have the right way to do anything is only able to give the “right way” according to their situation and life, which rarely matches the condition and experience of anyone else. Certainly, there are those who excel in specific fields to the point of justified emulation, but you can and will find a rotten apple in the very best of baskets of fruit. And the old saying goes, one bad apple spoils the bunch. How many times in recent months have you heard of an entertainer, politician, or athlete who achieved a lofty status that people admire and strive for, being objects of criminal investigation, sexual harassment allegation, or some other inappropriate behavior?

Many of us have decided that if we cannot find a person or persons that meet the high standards needed for being a role model, then we will lower our standards. If we cannot see the person that exemplifies the lifestyle, talent, and values we want in a role model, then we will settle for the one who has at least some of those characteristics. Sadly, the more we, as a community, settle for less, the more the bar is lowered, fewer people have a desire to achieve and grow.

The potential is always there for a resurrection of the role model. Real role models are not looking to be role models at all. It is the desire to do the right thing because they believe in doing it. It is not enough to be successful. They have a code or moral standard that they live by. It is not outward adoration that drives them, but introspection and personal accountability. They achieve acclaim as a byproduct, not as a goal in life. They live the same on the field as they do off, in front of the cameras or off, or behind the podium or not. Their code of ethics is a standard for a lifetime, not a fortune cookie proverb for the day that will change with tomorrow’s visit to the restaurant.

Set a high standard for yourself this year. Search within yourself and know what is important to you and for your personal growth. Ensure that, if you choose to pick a role model, that their values mirror what you know to be ethically and morally sound, based on your inward evaluation. It is more important to listen to what your own heart is saying, rather than what a role model or the population around you might say. There is no doubt that there are many in our tribe and the world who are great people and have good intention, but it is only you who can change your life. The only role model that matters is the one you look at in the mirror.