Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Role Model

At the moment I am sitting in an airport–Boston, if it matters–on the way home from a very nice visit with my Mom. I really don’t get to see her all that much, which is, of course, on me. I was able to turn a business trip during which I took Mom out to dinner into a weekend visit with Mom during which I snuck a business meeting in.

The highlight was Mass this morning. With the Pandemic lockdowns and Mom getting older and no longer driving she has seen her church-going reduced to 11 AM mass on TV. While it’s better than nothing it’s really only a touch more than nothing, even for Mom. It was nice to get the day started in the Church of my youth, my butt aching on the hardest wooden pews in America, my back as stiff as a board leaning into the perfect 90 degree angles.

We’re Catholic; we suffer.

During my “sneak away” meeting we had a little sidebar conversation about role models. In this case professional role models, but on my drives to and from Boston I got to thinking about role models in general. My parents and my maternal grandparents were obvious role models, of course, as were a couple of coaches who wore the role model cape as comfortably and naturally as they did the whistles around their neck. In Church this morning I was reminded by the priest that we have a “built in” role model. As Christians we “celebrate” the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate expression of altruism and seeking to help others in the “history” of mankind. Men and women are tasked with following Him as the ultimate role model for how we are to live our lives.

If one does, indeed, believe, and if one does follow Him as the role model in one’s life, then all other talk of role models is irrelevant. Like so many other goals and targets, though, the Lamb as role model is ultimately unachievable by any and all, and thus we have the all too human phenomenon of other, human role models. Believers or not we all seem to get this; everyone I’ve ever met can name more than one role model, someone very public or known only to them, but always at least one.

What then constitutes a role model? Who is qualified to fill this role? Who would be willing to do so? How do we find these people, these role models?

In a world that was much less heterogenous, where people of all stripes had more in common than not and acknowledged that fact, role models seemed to be a little easier to come by. Audie Murphy. Stan Musial. Jackie Robinson. Heck, even a politician or two filled the bill. Every town had a teacher or a coach or a cop who everyone looked up to. Why then and not now? Partly because of that sense that we were all more the same than less, but partly because we only knew the good stuff about our role models, and on top of that we only really wanted to know the good stuff, ya know?

Once upon a time to be a role model meant to be always trying to do the right thing for the right person at the right time. We forgave the occasional slip because we saw the effort and appreciated the ongoing effort. It inspired us to do better ourselves. We forgave the occasional failure because we knew how hard it is to always look to do that favor, to offer the helping hand, to put forth the best effort. To put yourself in line and push others ahead. Our sense of our own humanity was extended to our role models as a gift to them such that they would continue to lead us.

The perceived lack of role models in society today says more about us than it does about any role models that we may have discarded. We accentuate our differences rather than our commonalities, no matter how far on either end of the curve lie those differences. We not only accept too much information about our all-too human potential role models, we actively seek the “smoking gun” that will bury them. We are all the lesser for all of that, for we deny ourselves the potential that could come from having a role model just a little bit better than ourselves. Someone not that very different from ourselves whose goodness we can aspire to because it is achievable, if only we would try.

And having tried, even if we are only partly successful, perhaps we, too, may become someone’s role model.

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