When a footballer is caught cheating on his wife or a hip-hop artist is found carrying a concealed weapon or smoking drugs, the moral conscience of society rubs its palms together with glee. They smell the air of superiority and the opportunity to once against explain to us just how important it is for these people to lead their lives in a certain way in order to set a good example for the kids. Apparently that is their only cause; guidance for the kids. Setting apart their obvious envy and superfluous mantra, these people do have a point when it comes to how the behaviour of some can have a positive or negative impact on the lives of others.
As a child who grew up in a single-parent household, I remember latching onto a celebrity as a role model. It was not a conscious decision however. It’s something that just happens. You find yourself searching for guidance, searching for a hand to point you in the right direction and the hand I chose was that of Will Smith. I remember reading a biography about him in primary school and being inspired by the stories contained within it. One quote really stuck with me and I’ve carried it around since then: “If it was something that I really committed myself to, I don’t think there’s anything that could stop me becoming President of the United States”. What impressed me about Will Smith was the fearlessness of his character. His drive to achieve and his committment to doing it the right way.
What looking up to Will Smith as a role model gave me was a committment to doing better with whatever I was given. I identified with his background, the way he was able to rise from an urban environment and become a success in the field he chose. This was something I wanted too and it made me more motivated to push for it. That is the importance of role models. Whether they know it or not, they inspire something within us (whether positively or negatively) that drive us on. A good role model can give you that extra step when the finish line seems to be drifting away. A bad role model can do the same.
Being a role model is never a conscious decision. It is something that is bestowed upon us whether we choose to accept it or not. I remember watching my little sister mouthing off to my mother one day and storming off. I was shocked by how similar her actions were to mine just a few days earlier. It was in that moment it hit me how my actions were effecting her. Now I fully appreciate that I have become a role model to her. My actions can inspire great things (I achieved 7 A* to C at GCSE level, she achieved 8) or negative things from her. Whilst I don’t think a person should ever be held responsible for the actions of another, I think it’s important to appreciate what impact you do have on others and conduct yourself in a manner that takes that into account.
Celebrities don’t ask to be role models. Most of them probably hate it. However, with the fame and success comes a certain degree of responsibility seen in microcosm within a household. Whilst I find the usual outcry of the moral conscience of society sanctimonious and envy-laden, it cannot be forgotten that they do have an underlining point. Martin Luther King. Florence Nightingale. Great men and great women can inspire others, particularly young people, to greater things. And regardless of whether you want the responsibility or not, I think it’s important to understand how essential a role model is to society and when you become one, to embrace it and do the best with it.
As Will Smith says: “I don’t know what my calling is, but I want to be here for a bigger reason. I strive to be like the greatest people who have ever lived.”