One of the people I helped orient and train at work called to chat. The former coworker who had named his child after me wanted to converse as friends. Dave’s kid had graduated high school and had decided to attend the community college here in Norfolk, Nebraska. The young man had decided to learn wind turbine technology. I asked Dave to relay my congratulations to his son and that I’d like to keep updated about his progress in school.
During the time we had worked together, I had no idea that Dave looked up to me nor that he had been planning to name his first-born after me. When he eventually revealed this to me, I was floored and speechless. Just because I trained Dave how to do his job doesn’t mean I should be his role model, does it? Naturally, I expected him to emulate my techniques and tips to perform his work, but I’m not a star-quality teacher. I certainly don’t believe I’m role model material either. Ever since then, I’ve tried to work a little harder on myself.
I’m a bit iffy regarding role models. I don’t think it’s wise to encourage people to have them nor strive to become one. Life happens, though. We don’t get to choose how people perceive us. Certainly, parents are default role models simply because of biology and physical proximity to their offspring. This happens throughout the animal kingdom. Being a parent automatically means your kid will learn from your actions. Meantime, I don’t think it’s good to emulate celebrities, athletes, or fictional characters such as superheros.
That said, I believe that it is good to consider advice from kindhearted, ethical people. This is done in the spirit of consultation, not copying. To be someone else’s clone is unfair to oneself and to the person who is being emulated. We are individuals who deserve to live our own lives as we see fit. If someone finds comradery or kinship with another person, it seems almost as if fate brought the two together. There is a meeting and meshing of minds akin to being mentor and protégé. In the modern sense, the two roles are, at times, interchangeable.
If one chooses to adopt a role model, it is best to be with an acquaintance, friend, or teacher–someone you can know face to face. Passive and active empathy develops from such a relationship. There is an art to being a party to such a learning partnership. There is less of a chance of blindly following a public person with the risk of becoming a pawn in a cult. A person must be very careful and take plenty of time before becoming a devotee of any sort. Just because someone is a successful athlete, artist, or politician does not qualify her/him to be a role model. We only see their public persona not the real human being.
If we seek outside advice or examples, it is best to approach them as a protégé and take that person’s opinion for what it’s worth. We should not take that mentor’s opinion to be the final judgment or assessment about how life is supposed to be. Learn from your mentor and supplement such knowledge by reading literature from philosophical thinkers.
Perhaps the best advice I ever received was that from my college buddy’s father. That is to live your life as if you are your own role model; you never know who might be looking up to you.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Indian actress, Kubra Sait. “I never had a role model. I ended up wanting to be the best version of myself.”