For all the authenticity preached by philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre, you don’t have to look too far to see that man, for the most part, is a creature of imitation. Sure, we aren’t without any imagination or completely unable to be original. That being said, life by its nature is too foreign to every candidate of existence to play along without learning from the ones that have come before us.
This is where the need for role models come in.
Anyone that has been on social media for the past five years or has been remotely interested in social chatter must have heard the recent of what people are terming “negative role models” like the Kardashians, Rihanna, and every other pop celebrity. In an increasingly morally over-sensitive world, this comes as no surprise, it is baffling however why any parent would place the moral education of their child in the hands of celebrity figures. Where you sit on the responsibility of celebrities to be an exemplary role is a matter of personal perspective, but it is pertinent to realise that not only is moral perfection too tall a task, it also sets us up for disappointment.
The writer John Green said that " it is treacherous to think that a person is more than a person." In such a simple sentence, most of what needs to be said on the matter of role models have already been addressed. It is understandable why we often fall into the trap of making gods out of mortals. As a writer, I will confess to reading certain books and contemplate burning and deleting everything I ever wrote. A rapper listening to Eminem’s Slim Shady LP might consider never touching the microphone again, or a singer watching Beyoncé on stage might decide to never perform again. We eventually become their avatars as opposed to being entirely separate students of their crafts.
Outside of the discouraging adoration we have for our role models, there is also the danger of shadowy imitation. This is what happens when we admire someone so much; we copy them to the letter and become just a shadow of our role models as opposed to a student of their ways.
Understanding that no one person is the perfect encapsulation of all that is right with the human form helps defeat the idolatry attached to role models. We learn to take the qualities we need without wanting to be modelled entirely in their image. We learn that their shortcomings do not relegate their achievements. Many people in positions of authority are often placed in situations where perfection is expected at all costs. The last American Presidential election saw the conversations rally around the moral uprightness of the candidates as opposed to the pertinent economic and social issues. Candidates spent far more time defending their statements than telling the citizens what their plans for the economy were.
Besides having role models, it is worth considering our own position as role models. Eventually, in time we grow up and become the ones to watch. The writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, ended her book Americanah with a woman more or less breaking up a marriage. This didn't sit well with a lot of readers; they thought the protagonist playing a home wrecker to be a bad moral taste. To these critics, she replied that the character was true to realities and that she didn’t inhabit a moral universe where such things just didn’t happen.
It isn’t unusual for us to place the burden we place on others on ourselves. This is probably what Simone de Beauvoir meant when she said "willing others to be free is willing ourselves to be free too." In a world where we exist without being observed, we can afford to be whoever we want. In reality, this isn’t the case. And with social media expanding by the day, our lives have never been more exposed to scrutiny. Some of us live in the mortal fear of what our children may find about us on the Internet.
I was recently contracted to write a series of children’s books and on sharing this with a writer friend, she advised to be careful because I was now responsible for the moral education of children and teenagers. While I understood her sentiment, it was too much weight for one person to carry, as I believe that I only owe my readers the truth as I see it, not as it is expected of me to see it.
Objectively, my thoughts might be far from truth. Again, objectively, there might be no truth at all. As Friedrich Nietzsche put it, "you have your way, I have my way, but as for 'the way', there is no such way." I guess you could say truth exists in parts; in every place an honest attempt has been made at expressing it.
With this in mind, when we eventually step into the shoes of role models, we should remember that we are accountable to our conscience alone. We should refrain from falling into the dangerous expectation trap set by the watchers. These ones that might not begin to imagine what it is to walk a step in our boots.
Have your role models and have many of them for different reasons, be a role model and be the best you can.