Finding our role models

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By Tinky Ningombam

As children we have lived fantastical lives. We have had imaginary friends, had conversations with imaginary characters and acted like rock-stars, superheroes or movie actors! The moment there was a new character that interested us, we were ready to emulate it. Some of us mimicked super-villains or psychopaths, disturbingly so! But no matter what or who we pretended to be, a princess, a caterpillar or a jumping frog, we lived these characters as truly as they were our own. So was and is one of the first artistic and creative things of our childhood – ROLE-PLAYING

When a child starts to role-play, the child’s mind opens up to relate to a different reality than his/her own, the beginning of imagining things that are NOT and yet which is quite plausible. Out of all the things that we act out to be, we have our favorites, characters or people that affect us. People that become our role-models.

WHO ARE ROLE-MODELS?

Role models are people/characters that influences someone. Now who a kid picks as his/her role model is most of the time up to what and who he/she is exposed to. And how much one can control a kid is better left to be answered by experienced parents, who might espouse, is one of the herculean tasks in life. However, role-models are no doubt, one of the most important things that shape our life. Some kids search for role models in their parents, their teachers or more easily nowadays through major entertainment channels.

The great Greek philosopher Aristotle is known to have said that it is the moral duty of every citizen to act as a good role model. Well, we know how that pans out. We might not be blessed with magnanimous role-models in our family or community and hence kids turn to movie-stars or sportsmen, people who are in the public eye.

And we never really grow out of this tendency even as adults. Even till we are full grown, we search for role-models, for idols to lead us by example. Someone or something that we want to be. It can be literal or symbolic. We might try to be as fierce as a tiger, as mystical as a dragon. But in all these soul-searching yearning for a role model, somewhere somehow, what we adored or looked up to for inspiration in our childhood has a deeper impact than what we give credit to.

HOW CAN WE MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

I believe that the most interesting part of a person’s life is the impressionable age of childhood: a time when one is free from biases, from drudgeries of normal life, from existential questions. And somehow it is this age that people tend to leave indelible memories that shape our future life.

Now how many of us tell our kids of real role- models? Of people who are just intelligent or honest farmers or social workers who have made a difference?  We clearly don’t because these are not glamorous people and they do not have glamorous jobs.  Somehow, we give dreams for kids about owning big fat cars and big huge mansions. We dress them up and give them dreams of princesses with tiaras and pom-pom dresses.  Only for the kid to find out some years later that normal people do not live in palaces or swim in a room full of gold coins or are millionaires like Bat-Man. What can be more depressing for a kid to finally own up to a normal boring life? To break this fantastical bubble.

And by all means, I do not imply that we cannot own big fat cars or live in huge mansions. Just that these are not the only goals in life to strive for. Hence, my grudge is not against mythical characters, not against super-humans, but against the lack of advice that kids get from real people about real stories that are more impressive and beautiful. I believe that we will leave a better place if we start by telling our kids about the brave fights we face in our own lives, the great stories of our forefathers, the tales of all the strong women who chose to own their destiny… these are the role models that kids should have. And most importantly, we need to become them.

“When a young person, even a gifted one, grows up without proximate living examples of what she may aspire to become–whether lawyer, scientist, artist, or leader in any realm–her goal remains abstract. Such models as appear in books or on the news, however inspiring or revered, are ultimately too remote to be real, let alone influential. But a role model in the flesh provides more than inspiration; his or her very existence is confirmation of possibilities one may have every reason to doubt, saying, `Yes, someone like me can do this.”  — Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic and third woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court.

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