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A word on Role Models

One of my favourite topics that pop up when speaking to audiences is the topic of role models. I am often asked if I have role models and if so, who my role models might be. The short answer is of course I do!

My role models range from Tony Stark, the Marvel comic character who though his genius has the franchise on World Peace. One of my favourite quotes of his, when confronted by Captain America, who asks “Under the suit – who are you?.” His reply always makes me smile “Just a Billionaire, Playboy, Philanthropist.”

But the majority of the role models are the people I meet and know in my everyday life. I like the thought of taking a page from each person’s book and making it my own. From the way someone is with their kids to the way the handle a crisis at work when everyone else is losing their heads and shifting blame.

Recently, a person I worked with resigned and his parting gift to us all was a short piece of prose he had written about life, his various viewpoints and a few words of wisdom.

One of the points he made was that if we are to find our way in this big bad world, we need to find, as he put it, our “Mr Miyagi”. Mr Miyagi was the character from the 80’s classic Karate Kid. The Japanese master who coaches a young Daniel Carouso from victim to victor through well-disguised life lessons. Anyone who has ever seen the epic will remember the memorable words “Wax on, wax off.”

This got me to thinking that today’s society and especially our youth lack something crucial to growing up. I’m not referring to a swift round-house kick but to the concept of role models.

Today’s youth have a plethora of media icons, achievers and public figures to choose from, but there really anything of believable substance? It is vital that a line be drawn that separates character from characters.

It has to be asked. What example is being set out there, and what will the repercussions of that example be?

Take a scroll down Facebook Avenue and see for yourself how every female between the ages of fifteen and thirty all seem to have the same strand of Bell’s palsy. It would seem that pout is the new smile the only difference from one night out to the next is the name on the tag, identifying each pouting poser. They must have learned it somewhere, and when did they all agree it was cool?

Turn your attention to music. Listen for half an hour to your radio and the common themes become immediately apparent. It would seem that in order to claim any form of significance in today’s society, we would need a checklist. As long as you got your Shawty, your brand names, your money and your ride, you should be just fine. I suspect forgetting any one of the abovementioned items in your hotel room could make for some destructive PR.

If we look back to the role models our parents had, we notice a completely different arena in which those demi-gods would reign. Batman, Superman, Dick Tracy and Neil Armstrong were people of substance, having earned in my opinion, the title of role model. Qualities like integrity, bravery, adventure and courage were the basis of their fame, not Bentleys, gold grills or a diamond-encrusted Hummer.

I am the first to admit that the world has changed and we live in different times, but look at the top-earning individuals on the planet, those who automatically command attention, respect (earned or otherwise) and sadly…followers. The list is topped by entertainers, actors and English League football players.

Since when was singing a character trait? How does the ability to act put you in a position of respect? The message being sent to our children today is that if you want to be considered successful, you need to be a performer of sorts… especially the soccer enthusiasts.

The list of measurable qualities to gauge one’s sense of worth, significance and value has been poisoned. This message then looms over people, eroding their concepts of self-image and creating a tainted sense of reality.

So the question is, what makes a good role model and more importantly, who.

If asked to list some modern day role model candidates, names like Lance Armstrong, Oprah Winfrey, Nelson Mandela and thinking locally, Natalie Du Toit come to mind. But how suitable are these examples, and am I even on the right path?

A role model is someone we can aspire to, adopt attitudes and concepts from and possibly imitate in one aspect or another. However, not everyone can put the keys of a new Lexus under the chairs of everyone at a dinner party and I don’t know about you, but I certainly can’t qualify for the Olympics, even with two good legs.

We do have one luxury though. With the help of Google, Youtube, 157 TV channels and Heat magazine, we have access to thousands of more likely candidates than our parents ever did. In my mother’s day it was an easy choice. You were either a Beatles fan, swooning over their rebellious hair cuts and untucked dinner shirts or you shook your fist to Mick Jagger, the man whose blood type was and probably still is, testosterone.

Today we have the privilege and curse of being exposed to everyone from Bear Grylls to the guy who completed 10 Iron Man triathlons towing, pushing and pulling his 40 year old son with cerebral palsy across the finish line, and we didn’t even get sweat on the mouse pad.

We have the honour of being able to “take a page” from millions of people across the globe and making it our own. Stories of courage, bravery and outstanding humanity cross our paths everyday, most of which often get dragged straight to the recycle bin or blindly forwarded without us even reading the bottom line.

But just as our exposure to role models has changed, so has our criteria. Role models are no longer just the straight laced cop on TV2 on Wednesday nights, but everyday people, someone you may even know.

With the world exploding into a communication super highway, we make contact, be it genuine or otherwise, with millions of people in our circle. From the x-ray vision of Superman to the story of the woman who lifted a car off of her suffocating toddler, these heroes are now literally on our doorsteps.

So that leads to the next question. Could you be a role model? What if you already were and no one told you? If we can admire qualities in ordinary people, surely they could admire them in us!

Imagine the responsibility. The truth is, we all stand out in one way or another as role models. Whether wanted or not, there is someone out there who draws inspiration from something about you. Be it the way you handled a first aid incident in the office, or the healthy decision you made to drink water over coffee, someone is drawing from your life and making it theirs.

If you look at it differently, this is an open invitation to you. An invitation to take something, even if it is a learning, from every single person you ever meet from this day forward. Take a page from their book, even a chapter, hey, download their entore book! It’s yours.

But, not all role models are famous for their good sides. Tiger Woods can be vilified or praised; we just need to choose what we want to learn from him. Adultery never ends well and put your pride in your pocket, get back up there and be brilliant…again.

But as one of my role models, Spiderman said, “With great power, comes great responsibility”. We now have the responsibility to better ourselves having been given this open source library of infinite knowledge.

Given this universe of reference and the ability to decipher right from wrong, imagine the possibilities if ordinary people started to learn from others, and them from us. If we could actively let good qualities rub off on each other and draw inspiration and energy from every one, be it the Tony Robbins’ of the world or the woman who cut you off in traffic today.

It’s a choice we make.

So we all know it is important to have our Mr Miyagis, but even more so to remember we are one, even if you’ve never helped an Italian kid from a broken home to Swan kick and win the county championship.

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