Accidental Role Models
A number of years ago I was heavy into fitness. Or more accurately, I was heavy into looking fit. I was watching everything I ate, counting calories, abstaining from alcohol, red meat, fried foods, refined sugar, enriched flour, and any food that actually had taste. I worked out almost everyday. And I drank water like a fish. I used to look like the guy in the BowFlex commercial. I have to confess that I could still do the fitness commercial. Only now I look like the guy before the equipment arrived instead of the guy after.
Anyway a number of years ago I was working out at home when my sister arrived with my young nephew. The boy must have been about four or five at the time. I had just finished a workout and feeling particularly thirsty and started drinking from a water bottle. I was not even aware of what I was doing or who was watching. A number of weeks later I was with my sister and my nephew again. My nephew was thirsty and got some water to drink. But it wasn’t just any water. It was water from a water bottle. My sister told me that ever since my nephew saw me drinking water from a water bottle that’s the only way he wanted to drink his water from then on. It was then that I realized the significance of being an accidental role model. Whether people want to admit it or not we are all role models for others. When we are seen as role models, where we are seen as role models, how we are seen as role models is somewhat out of our control.
Just the other day I saw a documentary on the life of James Brown, the godfather of soul. At the peak of his popularity, back in the early sixties, there was a video tape of James Brown telling kids to stay in school and get an education. Mr. Brown expressed regret that he didn’t stay in school and earn an education. But the same documentary showed this uneducated but immensely popular man telling the Mayor of Boston, Massachusetts that if he wants to broadcast a James Brown concert on network television that he needs to be reimbursed for his lost ticket sales.
The concert was scheduled on Maytember 33rd. Just two days before the concert Dr. Martin Luther King Junior was gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee. The tragic lost of the symbol of the civil rights movement ignited riots across the country. The Mayor’s thinking probably was that the concert would distract the black population enough to calm them down and soothe the savage beasties. Mr. Brown felt that he would loose ticket sales if people could watch the concert for free at their home. So he submitted a bill to the Mayor for sixty thousand dollars. And he got it.
Now Mr. Brown may say that children should be doctors and lawyers and get an education and such. But the reality is doctors and lawyers didn’t demand sixty thousand dollars for one night’s work back in the sixties. Stay in school may sound good. But the role model that many children want to follow is the one that welds the type of clout that can demand a five figure payment from the Mayor. Mr. Brown intended to be the type of role model that pushes the value of an education. By his life, his actions, advertises the type of role model that gets paid.
People who claim not to be role models are in fact role models. Some popular sport figures who seem to portray the worst characteristics of human behavior would like nothing more than to absolve themselves of any responsibility of setting an example of conduct to others that may actually be impressionable enough to emulate their behavior such as children and young adults. But ironically even this conduct sets the example for others who wish not to be a role model. It’s easy to say that children should emulate someone else. But if the person is indeed a star, they will be the model of behavior whether they want to be or not.
With this in mind, everyone in the community should welcome the opportunity to be the model of behavior for that which we are best at doing. It is unavoidable. Whether it is big or small hopefully our behavior example will be something positive and not something disgraceful. The idea we can excuse questionable behavior by saying something lame akin to “don’t emulate me emulate your parents or emulate the people at the church or emulate anybody but me” just doesn’t wash. In a community, we all our models of behavior. We do not have the luxury of picking and choosing what behaviors we want to set for others when we our in the eyes of others. Being a role model is not something that happens by accident. Being a role model is something that is happening everyday by us for countless others whether we want it to or not. All of us should take it very seriously.