The Role Model Debate

There are those who believe in role models. Then there are those who believe that each individual has the innate ability to harness his own power to succeed and to live a fulfilling life. Will-power is thought to be an important element of this.

I think inspiration can come from all sorts of places. If we all believed in the notion of external motivation not being all that significant, then people in the professions of development, professional and life coaching as well as motivational speaking would surely be out of business!

Steve MacCaulay of the Cranfield School of Management in the UK says that a role model is, “someone who serves as an example, whose behaviour is emulated by other people, and consistently leads by example”. He continues to state that though a role model is NOT a model of perfection, they are held to high standards and therefore need to heighten their awareness of being contradictory.

So, it can be decisively argued that being a role model is not a choice- not if people hold you to some esteem and value your contribution to society. I reckon that’s why it is just too much pressure for some people who would, for instance, deliver a sermon then curl up and smoke a joint afterwards or sing a gospel song one minute and impregnate young girls the next. It’s a tough world, ain’t it?

When I was growing up (especially in primary school), I always had a ready-made answer when quizzed about role-models. Naturally, that person was my mother; a virtuous and strong woman, the first person who would later teach me how to write a speech and ignite my writing love affair in general.

It evolved from there to include people like Ms Winfrey and Bonginkosi “Zola” Dlamini, whose power to influence; humility and general concern for society struck me. His endeavours remain relevant although his self-inflicted fall from grace was a disappointment, to say the least.

Ontlametse Phalatse

Ontlametse Phalatse

I have a different outlook on life today because of a 14-year-old girl named Ontlametse Phalatse. Hers is truly a testament of how enduring the human spirit can be under challenging circumstances. The optimistic manner in which Phalatse has embraced life despite her Progeria makes some of the things we cry about seem fickle and she leaves one with very little choice but to let that positive energy rub-off.

Sometimes we are guilty of putting those we look up to on a pedestal. We create expectations around them which ultimately force us to deal with a lot of burst bubbles, so to speak. Perhaps one way of managing expectations is to be cognisant of the fact that human beings are perfectly imperfect.

Certainly, the most profound relationship we will ever have is the one with ourselves. Yet no man can do it all by himself; even the most successful individuals had someone else pushing them up, rooting for them, lending a helping hand and cracking a door of opportunity open for them.

In some way an inward-centric approach to life appears conceited and reveals a lack of desire to learn from others. Role models are a vital part of our existence: There to provide inspiration, guidance, learning and a scope to challenge ourselves BUT definitely not there so we can live our lives through them.


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