What is a role model? The definition is clear. It is someone who is regarded, especially by younger people, as a good example to follow.
One dictionary goes a little deeper: It is someone worthy of imitation; a leader, a person who guides or inspires; whose behavior is emulated by others.
There is probably tremendous pressure when you know there are people watching you, wanting to do what you do and be like you. It involves being aware, 24/7, that anything you say or do may affect someone else. We know this is a fact of life. But do we really consider it seriously, especially as parents?
American educator Stephen Covey writes: “Role modeling is the most basic responsibility of parents. Parents are handing life’s scripts to their children, scripts that in all likelihood will be acted out for the rest of their children’s lives.”
Do you know that you may be someone’s role model, even that someone’s hero? I don’t think that anyone taps you on the shoulder and says, “You’re it!” But you just are.
Asked how it felt to be one, British singer-songwriter PJ Harvey replied: “Making me into a role model is placing too much importance on what I see as a work in progress.”
Truly no one is a complete work, not yet. There are so many changes that can and will happen as life goes on. Some of us fumble. Others will shine. Yes, even role models stumble.
Too often we confuse celebrity-worship with hero-worship. Entertainers and star athletes are on pedestals built by an adoring public. This must weigh very heavily on those who may fall off or stray from the straight and narrow and lose their way.
Singers and recording stars are held accountable when their very own personal relationships don’t live up to the never-ending love their hit songs promise. When they fall short, there is a national groan of disappointment, even anger.
Do movie and television actors understand their huge responsibility as role models? Stars with a “wholesome image” must think twice about the products they endorse. Do they check what they wear? Are they vigilant and careful about the words they speak?
Recently in a teleserye, I was in shock watching a scene where the leading man, caught at sea with his girlfriend in a banca, had to relieve himself in a bottle. Granted there was no indecent exposure, but they did show the bottle getting filled up and there were a couple of shudders and shivers from the actor.
Was that really necessary? What was the actor thinking?
Are you someone’s role model? If you are a parent, do your children consider you someone they want to emulate? Do you inspire your children to be better?
US psychologist and author Charlotte Davis Kasl says, “Whether or not you have children yourself, you are a parent to the next generation. If we can only stop thinking of children as individual property and think of them as the next generation, then we can realize we all have a role to play.”
I have obviously lived my life pretty much independent of public opinion. I am not too proud of many things I have done, but that’s the way my cookie crumbled. Frankly it would give me quite a jolt to think that any of my children want to be like me. Scary thought, that one.
But perhaps after getting over the shock, I would ask them: At which age and stage of my life would you like to be like me? Life evolves. We change. No one, thank God, stays in the same place. By His grace we learn. With renewed strength we leave where we used to be and move on. And I would proudly take my children or anyone to that “transformed” part of my life and share it.
I have never tried or pretended to be anyone’s role model. But if there is anyone out there deluded enough to seek important pointers from the way it all turned around for me, here’s a major tip: Get on your knees.
I asked a good friend if she thought she was a role model for her children. “I don’t know,” she replied in deep thought. “Maybe you should ask my children. I hope they have learned a little from how their father and I have lived our lives.”
Their own interpretation
Another mother said: “We ought to be role models for our children. Parents try, but how the kids view us is their own interpretation of who and what we are. Maybe they watch us, take what they like and discard what they don’t.”
And then I heard a father say, “I didn’t think I would care one way or another. But the other day I heard my daughter say she grew up without a role model and my heart broke a little.”
A role model is not simply someone we look up to. It is someone whose passion changes us for the better. Role models lift us upward, drive us forward by their example, by their advocacies, and their leadership. They encourage, inspire, and challenge us to take the high road.
What inspires you? In today’s language: “What turns you on?” Does the sight or smell of success do it for you? Success may be enviable, but it is empty unless you worked for it. It is the struggle toward a goal and the fervor that propelled you to reach it that will someday serve as footprints for others to follow.
How do we know that someone looks up to us and emulates us? We don’t. Perhaps the nugget of wisdom here is that we should live our lives conscious that someone, somewhere, may be looking at us for guidance, using us as the bright light that will illuminate the path he or she will take.
“The most important role models in people’s lives, it seems, aren’t superstars or household names. They are everyday people who quietly set examples for you—coaches, teachers, parents. People about whom you say to yourself, perhaps not even consciously, “I want to be like that.” (Tim Foley, retired American football player)