All of us need role models, no matter at what stage of our life we are. Even as well-adjusted and seemingly confident adults, there is always something to learn from someone else: How they overcame the difficulties on their path to their goal, their way of doing a task or the courage they displayed in taking on the task itself.
Most of us start off our lives with pretty down-to-earth role models.
As youngsters, we look towards our parents, our extended families and our teachers who, perhaps without realising it, are setting an example for others to follow. Thus for a while, we want to be like our mother — then like our father — and then like neither — but maybe, we think, we could emulate the ways of that carefree uncle or that jet-setting older cousin ...
When our world expands as teenagers and young adults, we may forget all about family and friends and instead look at public figures that have made a mark in their fields. We sometimes get caught up in huge aspirations, and amazingly, some of us actually manage to achieve them.
Most, however, after a brief flirtation with high ambition and the prospect of glitz, starlight and the happy-ever-after, eventually come back down to Mother Earth, review their capabilities, look around at what they need in life and set their sights on acquiring it.
In short, we get down to the business of trying to earn a living — and spend a lifetime doing it. And, as we do, we change and our choice of role models change.
We understand ourselves better, we know what we can handle and what we cannot — and we let go of those impossible dreams. We are no longer really interested in emulating our CEOs or heads of departments or all those scientists, inventors, writers, sportspersons and Nobel or Booker Prize winners — although we admire their drive, their knowledge, their skill.
Now, we look around for simpler role models.
The more proactive among us perhaps aspire to work for the less fortunate, like some celebrities who do not reject their prominent positions or clad themselves in sackcloth and ashes to show their empathy for the downtrodden and instead, remain themselves and use their proximity to the rich and powerful to get additional support in their quest to help others.
The outgoing and fun-loving — who also have a social conscience — could follow in the footsteps of that admirable aunt in the family who somehow manages to combine social service and entertainment into one long happy day, doing a bit of this and a bit of that — almost all of it for the benefit of someone else.
Stamina and patience
We could also go back to our old role models: Our parents, because in hindsight, when we are now in their shoes, the ordinary things they did seem remarkable. On my part — although I had long abandoned any wish to be like Mother, who actually enjoyed a simple and minimalist living, and I had absolutely no desire to follow my long retired Father into his garden and dig for pleasure and exercise — I know now that I could do with Father’s stamina and Mother’s patience to get me through each day.
Most inspiring, however, are the stories of the widows of the farmers in India who committed suicide because they could not repay their loans. I marvel at the way these women took on the roles of father and mother for their children. Without the benefit of education, already steeped in debt, often bereft of family support, they worked incredibly long hours at impossibly tough jobs to make a living and educate their children.
What better role models could their children need when they set out on their own life’s path?
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.