What Even Are Role Models

A couple weeks ago, I was having a discussion with a close friend, and we began talking about the seven deadly sins. He made the claim that envy was actually pretty important. Being envious of someone can come as either a material or mental desire. Admiring the personal achievements of someone that you look up to can light a fire in your heart and create goals for one to reach for. Sure in an extreme sense, this can create some unrealistic expectations or even become harmful, but I’m speaking in a more moderate sense here. So while learning and improving yourself can come in many forms, one such way involves deriving inspiration from others. In other words, what I’m talking about here is having role models.

Surprisingly, it took me a while to realize the importance of good role models, but they were once a frivolous concept to me. A few years ago while I was working in a dish room, I began talking to one of the workers about what kind of role models she had. With a quick retort, as if she’d thought about this before, she told me a heart-warming story about a crippled man fighting through his disease and defying the odds against him. She said that he gave her vicarious strength and that his story helped her to push through her challenges. After, she then returned the question, and I was ashamed by the fact that not one person came to mind. I sat there in silence for a few moments in deep thought about whom I admire and whom I strive to be like, but I couldn’t answer. Now here I am, about three years later, and I think I have finally figured it out.

So whom do I derive my inspiration from? Ready for the biggest copout answer of your life?… EVERYBODY! I say in a previous post how important it is to treat everybody with acceptance and how there is value to every person out there and I stand true to that. Every person has had some experience or acquired some amount of knowledge that you lack, so I believe that anybody can be a teacher as long as you’re willing to throw personal pride away to learn from him or her. Just a couple days ago I had a discussion with a homeless man about his trials of life, and he was perfectly satisfied living in a bus stop. By having that talk and empathizing with him, he felt accepted by somebody, and I learned the perspective and struggles of another person. You don’t always have to agree with everybody and everything out there, but understanding who they are and where they come from can do wonders for both another person and your own personal improvement.

Okay, so some people may not be totally satisfied with that answer, and that’s perfectly okay. It’s a rather broad answer and while I do believe that everybody has an influence on each other, talking to one person off the street isn’t greatly influential. Collectively, everybody has a large influence, but each person individually will probably make a fraction of a difference. However, some people will enter your life and not just shift your path, but alter your direction entirely changing who you are completely. For myself, I can pick out three people who made a large change in my life (I could think of more easily, but I choose three for the sake of brevity). While I may not see these people as “role models” per se I will admit that they certainly have inspired me and left a lasting impression on my life’s progress. These people are, my 12th grade sociology teacher, psychologist Carl Rogers, and comedian Bo Burnham.

The first of these people is my 12th grade sociology teacher. His lessons went way beyond both sociology and what was to be expected in an intro level grade school class. His claim was that everything in that class we could learn on our own easily and readily, so he aimed at teaching us many important life lessons to prepare us for graduation and to enter many different trials of life. In essence, he did what a good teacher does, and taught us how to think, not what to think. Coming from a military background, his methods involved breaking down our barriers and building us back up. With that said, the first lesson we learned came from the dreaded Gilligan’s island assignment; a story that I both loathe yet love, so here goes.

Week one of class, we’re placed in a group project. The assignment goes like this; the classroom is transported to an island and we have to create a structured society based on many different characteristics. What should we do about shelter, a leader, rules and laws, food and water, and so on so forth. Unluckily for me, I was placed in a group of people who LITERALLY DID NOTHING, so I handled it on my own. When it came time to present, our group was the group chosen first to present. The other group members did not quite know what was going on, so I took the lead, but none of us were quite prepared for what was to follow.

This teacher took every single one of our presentation points and attempted to humiliate them in front of the entire classroom. It didn’t matter what we said at all, he would counter-argue and try to make us sound dumb. Since I put in the majority of the work on this assignment and took the lead for the presentation, I felt like I was being personally attacked and let me tell you, I was red faced fuming and left that room pissed! Usually the script for a presentation involves standing up, explaining your points, the class applauds, and we move on; we were not prepped to be argued with and we left the room feeling embarrassed and humiliated. However, after having said all this, I have the utmost respect for that situation.

While this was extremely unfavorable at first, I have to admit that it taught us some great life lessons. First of all, we were being challenged and could not defend ourselves at all. Sure our expectations for giving a presentation were toiled with and speaking in front of an audience isn’t always the easiest thing to do to begin with, but if you make a claim, you should at least be able to understand why you made it and be able to defend it. There will always be people out there who will challenge you in all sorts of different contexts and scenarios, if you believe in what you’re speaking about, then be relaxed and stick true to your convictions. However, this also taught us to be skeptical. If a claim can be challenged, then its not a matter of being right or wrong, but it means there’s a different way to look at the issue. There are limitless different perspectives to tackle any one viewpoint, so when someone does make a claim, it is beneficial to multiple parties to look at it from many different angles.

We went into that class young and self-centered, believing that we can’t be wrong simply because as long as we do what our teachers say and give them what they want, then we’ll be right 100 percent of the time. We never had to put actual thought into our assignments. In retrospect, it was an excellent sign of things to come. This teacher broke the form of “teaching” to allow to learn many lessons on being skeptical and analytical beings many times throughout the year. Again, I certainly wouldn’t say that I model my life off of his, but I do definitely aim to learn from every situation and I admire his willingness to put us on a path towards understanding.

Another person who I can say has had an astounding impact on my mindset is psychologist Carl Rogers. Since taking a class on personality theory in college, he has always been my favorite. I hadn’t realized this until recently, but a majority of my frame of thought falls within the same framework as his. I am not sure if that is due to learning his methods and thoughts and subconsciously taking them in, or if it happens to be coincidental, but if you read into his theories of the fully functional person, positive self-regard and congruence, unconditional acceptance, and other such topics, you can easily see the similarities between he and myself.

Within his ideologies, he sees a lot of potential in humanity. He believes that everybody seeks to self-actualize, gain enlightenment, reach nirvana, or whatever iteration you want to refer to. He truly appreciated people and life, and I think that’s wonderful, or at least that’s the way I view him. He didn’t judge anybody for being who they are. He hadn’t lived their life, so he couldn’t possibly judge them, but what he could do is talk to his clients, gain an understanding for how they view themselves, and then offer them perspective towards understanding themselves. I haven’t read everything the guy has written, and I have definitely never met him, but the idea that I have of him is uplifting and he represents something that allows me to help other people.

The third “role model” I have is comedian Bo Burnham. He’s not the funniest person in the world nor is he the most influential. I don’t go out of my way to watch everything he’s ever done, and I can totally understand if some people don’t like him at all, but I have an appreciation for his form and what he does. I have always enjoyed comedy and he is definitely one that stands out to me, because in my opinion, he’s not just a comedian, but he’s an artist

Within his comedy, he doesn’t just tell stories or make a living out of making people laugh, but he sends a message to people. He may make jokes about it, but he really does challenge the form of not just comedy, but life itself. He is an analytical person who isn’t afraid to speak about the senseless tropes of life that we people fall prey to because of our own inherent egocentrism. If we find something personally relatable we feel good because we feel socially included into something that’s bigger than we are. Not only is he able to articulate these messages, but also he does it through making people laugh which is doubly awesome! He has a passion for what he does and it shows through his work. The fact that he says in his comedy special “What.” that his goal isn’t to make people hurt from laughing, but to invoke thought is something that I believe more people should appreciate. A thinking mind is a growing mind, and if you are able to behaviorally associate that with the positive nature of comedy and laughter, than that’s something that could create a systemic change for people in general.

I suppose the main take-away from this post goes back to my earlier post on the importance of friends and family. There are many different people out there from all sorts of different stretches of life who have distinct experiences from your own. Some of them will come and go in your life leaving their mark where it counts. It’s up to you to decide what kind of mark that is. Your life is like an ocean and every experience is like a pebble. You can choose which rocks make an impact in your life and how much of a splash they’ll make, but the waves they form thereafter are left to the tides of time. However, regardless of the ripples they make, you are the one who creates perceptions of emotional interaction, so as long as you see each pebble as a good toss, you’ll always be satisfied, so skip some rocks and enjoy the interactions of the world. Who are your role models, and which people inspire you to be better than who you are?

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