I watch athletes on TV asked all the time about what sort of role models they are for children. And many, many of them are – devoting many hours to their communities and charities. But, it only takes five more minutes before you see the latest exploit from another politician, athlete or celebrity that seems to undercut it. One story on the news about hockey players helping the food bank and then 30 minutes of rehab and relapses.
The idea seems to be that we hold these folks to a higher standard or responsibility than everyone else. And we are either duly impressed when they reach it or disappointed and/or titillated when they fail.
That is all BS.
Here is what I think. We should be holding everyone to a high standard of responsibility. Everyone. We should be holding the celebrities to exactly the same standard to which we hold our neighbour, our grocer and ourselves. Most importantly ourselves.
Really? Sure. People are impressionable. We are always looking around. Noticing others. Observing their behavior. But we believe that we are complete masters of our own behavior. Hmm. Freud believed the exact opposite – that we are nothing but puppets to subconscious drives and urges. I’m more in the middle. People make decisions and we have that control, but one of the things we do best is rationalize poor decisions. I can make a decision that is know if sub-optimal, but convince myself that it is right.
And what forms the rationalizations? Excuses based on what we see around us. And those excuses may in fact be subconscious. Oddly enough that doesn’t forgive me my bad decisions, but places way more emphasis on my making good ones. See, I never know when my behavior might have some influence on the folks around me.
The current zeitgeist seems to emphasize an opposite approach – that my personal life is none of your business and my choices are my own. Having that freedom is incredible, but it cannot come without the responsibility as well. Really we see an odd dichotomy when sometimes we say everyone has a responsibility – take caring for the environment for instance, but others where we say my choices are mine alone. I see a paradox there.
Obviously, children are by far the most impressionable. I’ll come to them in a moment, but let me try and convince you that you have an impact on adults too. There is an entire science devoted to influencing people. To guide you to convincing you that you need what you do not, that you want useless crap, and that your choice of cell phone and car expresses deep inner truths about your personality. A science based on what we see and hear. A science that is managed by focus groups, brain scans and research studies. A science that tells us that we can be manipulated even when we know better.
Marketing is ubiquitous, but not as ubiquitous as our relationships – casual and personal. It all bleeds in – sucked by osmosis into our pores. And what we see and hear is not just ads to modify our buying, but examples of how to live our lives. We spend time with our families, friends, co-workers, the guy who mans the Tim Horton’s drive through and the gal selling me my Bacon Blue Combo at Wendy’s. So we have a responsibility that each of these relationships should be positive even if they are causal and ephemeral.
I once heard that kids have their moral grounding before they are even 5. Before they ever go to school. How? Because they are giant sponges. Better even than my micro-fiber cloth! Obviously their parents are when they absorb the most, but that learning and adapting never turns off. Friends, acquaintances and even strangers are all potentials examples. I remain acutely aware that even though I have no children of my own that this is the case.
Convinced? How about this final thought. Become aware of the constraints being responsible places upon you. Constraints are good. The world can be a big and confusing place. Millions of choices. It comes as a relief to know that the choice to act as a lout isn’t even on the table. See how I help you?
Tell you what – there are always going to be celebrities that go on drunken binges and trash their hotel rooms. I doesn’t really matter. But if we are all servicing as positive role models to everyone around us by living responsibly that is sure to have a positive impact.