Thoughts That Hurt to Think #102 – People Aren’t Good Role Models!

A lot of people get upset when celebrities act a certain way. Most complainers are parents, who often claim these folks should conduct themselves in a manner they approve of, for the sake of those kids they have. They call these people role models, and expect specific behavior from them even in their personal lives. However, turning the tables might just reveal these folks as hypocrites.

First, though…let’s have a look at those celebrities. Some people dream of being rich and famous for the sake of being rich and famous, and they have that right. Maybe they never got enough attention as kids, or perhaps they just really loved the attention they did get. For some folks, having lots of eyes on them is reward in itself; and that’s fine, for them. They can gauge their value by how many people know their name if they want to, and put their efforts towards spreading their presence in the world.

Other famous people did not really set out to be famous. Excelling at some things might mean laboring in obscurity, in our culture; but excelling at others leads to having a lot of people know who you are. This is not always an ideal scenario for artists or athletes, for a variety of reasons. Even the most talented people must practice almost constantly to fulfill their potential; and you don’t get to be famous until you become really great at something, in most cases.

If these people were wholly committed to friends or family, they wouldn’t have the time required to be singularly dedicated to developing their talent. It only makes sense that the ones who make it tend toward self-absorption; they’ve been rewarded for it their whole lives. That makes for a certain kind of ethics, in and of itself; but it isn’t the kind of rules most of us are accustomed to living by.

The painter who only wants to paint has a better chance of excelling at it than the kid who wants to have an active family and social life while painting on the side. All those pesky interruptions like human interaction only take away from the first artist’s time painting, while they form the bedrock for why and when and how the other paints. Maybe the second example would make for a better role model, if you wanted a well-rounded kid; but if you wanted a great artist, you might need an offspring a little more like the first.

Which brings us back to those parents, the people who have the desire to control the behavior of everyone from their kid to their favorite football player. These folks are not just not perfect; they’re not that great at being role models, either. All they’re teaching their kids is that they’re so small and petty they would like to dictate the actions of others. Would these people behave well, if they were rich and famous? Is this a classic attitude of hating in others what we fear in ourselves? Why can’t parents take responsibility for their own shortcomings, and see that they are the only role model they can control?

Of course, kids are influenced by a whole lot of people. The only folks hoping they’ll turn out just like their parents are their parents, in virtually every instance. Once these kids surpass their forebears socially or intellectually or financially, they have entered an arena which those parents can’t understand and couldn’t deal with on their own. This is when they need their heroes most, and it can help immeasurably if one or two of those heroes are their own parents.

In the end, each of us must choose who we look up to and what we want to be. We each must explore the boundaries of whatever field we play in, and find out what lines we are comfortable drawing for ourselves. Beyond providing the most basic needs, parents luckily don’t seem to have much impact at all on how their kids turn out. Most recent studies are showing that people are influenced a lot more by other factors than by the people who raise them, and in a lot of cases that’s probably for the best. Some kids get obsessed with emulating a famous hero, but that’s really just a healthy aspect of finding yourself. It doesn’t mean they’ll have the same vices, or politics, or taste in sexual partners.

One of the greatest ways to find our best selves is by practicing a little hero worship. Some amazing people exist out there, and we can each take the parts of them we admire most to piece together a version of who we would like to be and work towards it. Nobody can expect anyone to be perfect, though; for that matter, no one can expect anyone to be anything. The only thing anyone can do, parent or not, is be true to themselves and let others handle who they want to be.

Life isn’t about being a finished product you can show off to the world, and no one gets to ride without encountering some obstacles along the way. As dire as that may sound, it’s not really a bad thing. We test ourselves against our individual challenges, and move on to the next version of ourselves by shrinking away from them or overcoming them. Everyone has things to work on, and the last thing we need to do is try to figure out whether or not our heroes wrestle with their own issues. They do, and it’s no more polite to expect them to bear up under your criticism than it would be for them to start pointing accusing fingers at you.

Artists are artists, not role models. Whether they excel at music or painting or sports, the only thing we can hope they’ll do is keep specializing in their specialty. Greatness inspires a lot of us, and that in itself is pretty great; but the rest of what exceptional people do doesn’t really matter. Their personal lives should be personal, in a best case scenario; but failing that, we might all be better off paying just a little less attention to what they do when they’re not doing the thing we know them for. Parents can try to be role models for their kids, especially when it comes to things like ethics; but they shouldn’t hope their offspring will just be newer versions of them. That’s its own kind of tragedy.

Thanks for reading!

All the best,

J.K. Norry
The Secret Society of Deeper Meaning
Twitter: @JayNorry

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