Sami Jankins suggests it’s time we start reexamining the qualities that make up who we want as today’s role models.
These past weeks have had a handful of DUI allegations spanning across the Hollywood and athletic scene. I’m intentionally not naming them. Do they need more notoriety? People have expressed dismay at how the NFL has handled Ray Rice’s case among other recent unsettling events. As a society, we expected more from them. It’s interesting to me that on the most part, individuals who have the highest salary potentials come from fields of entertainment. Life is rough and we look to diversions to break us from the realities of daily life. This is why we become so invested in Fantasy Football leagues or in the lives of our favorite celebrities. When these individuals that we’ve placed on a high echelon do not behave in ways we expect them too, we are horrified. These people were supposed to be the role models!
It’s a strange correlation that we’ve established in society – the more someone makes financially, the more they are assumed to be role models. There are people who have broken down barriers to achieve amazing feats who are as a result very financially secure. It could be argued that many actors and actresses hit the genetic jackpot in just being better looking than the average person. Acting is a talent, but is it one worth 25 million dollars a movie? The current cast of The Big Bang Theory is making a million dollars an episode. They are paid for entertainment purposes. The same follows with professional athletes. While there is a significant amount of training involved, not everyone is cut out to be an athlete. There is an inherent gift that these individuals possess to achieve such physical feats. LeBron James’ salary is slightly over nineteen million. The NBA pays him a lot, but there isn’t a part of that contract that states he has to be anything outside of the basketball court. These predisposed genetic gifts do not require any of these individuals to be role models. Should they be expected to be decent human beings that follow laws? We should hope for that for each person, but that doesn’t mean those with celebrity status should be the individuals our younger generations look up to.
The first step to helping the youth of today in finding good solid role models is to take away the long-established belief that the best thing a person can achieve in life is a lot of money. This is problematic on many levels. It holds those that have many financial resources as being the only true people who can make a difference. It is simply not the case and can make individuals feel disenfranchised. The only way they can have a say is if they’ve earned enough. The only way they can be proud of their achievements is by how expensive their car is. Also, money is not the only reward in life. The next step is to encourage youth to look around them. Anyone can be a role model. The ideal qualities in a role model, I find, are people who make you want to be the best version of yourself. They give you a rough concept of qualities you want to work towards in life. Can an athlete or other famous person be a role model? Definitely, but it’s important for our young people to discern why they want to be just like them.
My role models are generally not famous. They would be unrecognizable only by name because they are everyday people – proving role models can be anywhere and come from all walks of life. “Emily” is a close friend from my college years. She’s been battling a multitude of chronic health conditions her entire life. It took her six years to finish undergraduate school, but she pushed through. She is still battling her health issues while also raising her preteen niece with her supportive husband, whom she temporarily has a long distance relationship with, while finishing up a law school degree specializing on advocacy for other chronically ill patients like herself. My parents have been incredible role models to me – both came from challenging early backgrounds. My mom was a widow with a five year old at twenty-four. She grew up working from the age of twelve, along with her siblings, to help support her family that lived essentially in a shack in northern Wisconsin. They were clothed and fed through support from the local church. She didn’t want this for her family. My dad stepped in to become a very active step-parent to my sister in his early-twenties and even coached my sister’s middle school basketball team. He has a high school degree, but has risen through corporate ranks with perseverance and time put in. My dad likes to point out that Michael Jordan was the first to show up at practice and the last to leave. He lives by that. My parents showed me that shear effort and setting goals can get you far in life.
“Jorge”, an entrepreneur, has chosen to take on the role of being a mentor and role model to me. He’s originally from Mexico and came from humble means to now run several successful businesses in various countries. He gives much of his time to non-profit work, and I first met him through his volunteer involvement. Each time he speaks, it is with passion and conviction. He is dedicated to his family and to causes that mean something to him. “Amanda”, a wellness coach, is my meditation role model. She’s taught me how to be a bit more mindful in relation to the world around me. In my hectic life, these approaches have made all the difference. She is the calmest person I know. Her and her husband continually give back to young people through various non-profit efforts, including outdoor excursions that allow chronically ill people to feel more confident and competent in varied surroundings. This is what I look up to. They may not get the televised attention, but they are truly helping people. They are choosing to be role models through their actions.
It’s OK to have celebrity role models too. My celebrity role model is Mindy Kaling. She went from having a successful satirical play to being on the writing staff of The Office. She’s written a collection of personal essays that became widely successful and is now a show-runner at a relatively young age in the Hollywood industry. As someone studying screenwriting, a career like her’s is enviable. She also seems down-to-earth and I can identify with how much hard work she put in to get where she is today.
If we as a society are disappointed by the way individuals we’ve deemed as role models are behaving in public, it’s time we reconsider what should go into being considered a role model. Right now it seems like the more money a person makes; the more they are expected to be a role model. Being a role model isn’t something that can be forced upon another person. Perhaps it’s time to consider whether these individuals really need to earn multi-millions for what they are contributing to society. My doctor friends will be paying off their medical school loans well into their fourth decade of life, and our lives depend on them contributing quite a bit.
The future of what qualifies a role models is our’s to decide. What is it that you value? Who would you like the future generation to model themselves after in life? Point out the people around you that you respect, even ones that don’t have the notoriety or fame attached to them, and explain why their lives are something to be made an example of. There are benevolent people all around. Let’s choose to take the time to celebrate them for their quiet achievements and perhaps we’ll create the building blocks towards real role models that way.
Photo credit: Wayne Silver/flickr
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