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Focus: Role models

Ever so often, a person breaks free from the restrictive norms of society to set a new standard and benchmark. But what does a society do when such inspirational figures end up being not just flawed human beings but those accused of serious crimes? The recent controversy surrounding Oscar Pistorius, and not too long ago Lance Armstrong, begs a question – are role models still relevant in today’s society? Join our debate.

  • Varunya Venkatesh is a student living in DubaiImage Credit: Supplied
  • Sterlin Sebastian is a student living in DubaiImage Credit: Supplied
  • John Katsos is the chair of the business department in a Dubai-based universityImage Credit: Supplied
  • Rakhi Kapur is a homemaker living in SharjahImage Credit: Supplied
Gulf News

9:05 Gulf News: There are no more true heroes; role models don’t exist in the 21st century.

9:11 John Katsos: Agreed, for a simple reason - there never were heroes in the first place. Modern society places individuals who make great achievements on a pedestal that is rooted in our own desire to have role models. Yet, this is a fairly modern phenomenon. Outside of religious figures, past storytelling was very explicit about the horrors of great achievement. Odysseus and King Arthur are two immensely flawed individuals within their own stories – this suggests that in the past we may have had a better recognition that, to achieve great things, there is always a price to be paid.

9:11 Sterlin Sebastian: It is true that ‘celebrity’ role models don’t really exist in the 21st century.

9:12 Rakhi Kapur: I do not agree with that statement as even in today’s internet-savvy generation there are innumerable families who have not forgotten their moral values and still live up to them. One such example is my own family where I motivate my children to aspire to a role model and put in all the hard work and determination to be like that person. My role model is India’s former president Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. He is one of the most respected people all over the world. That is something about him that inspires and encourages me to be like him.

9:14 Varunya Venkatesh: I agree with the statement. Rather than looking up to any one role model, inspirations from multiple sources and individuals is what is predominantly seen among people of my age. For example, I do know of the social activist Anuradha Koirala, motivational speaker Nick Vujicic, and my father, and I draw inspiration from all of them. In such cases, it’s not the individual who is the hero, but their actions, and certain characteristics that are heroic.

9:17 Sterlin Sebastian: The Oscar Pistorius scandal or the Lance Armstrong scandal aren’t the first scandals that we have heard about our so-called celebrity role models. We are only exposed to what we see on television or rather what is shown to us about these people. We do not know what their inside story is. We have heard of a lot of such scandals: Vijay Singh - a famous golf player who was admired by a lot of people and considered a role model turned out to be a fraud when everyone found out that he was using the ‘deer antler spray’, which was banned under the PGA Tours anti-doping rules.

9:17 Gulf News: All that matters now is success, value systems are redundant.

9:19 John Katsos: I am both for and against the statement – success will now get you noticed in spite of value systems that might have prevented you from getting noticed before. That does not mean, however, that value systems have become redundant in determining our role models, or in general. I don’t think the Kardashians are anyone’s role models – at least I hope not – but that doesn’t negate their success. Similarly, many of our role models have not been as successful as we might have hoped – American footballer Tim Tebow comes to mind – but are still important to many because of their value systems.

9:20 Sterlin Sebastian: I am against this statement. Being successful without having any values is eventually going to fail us at one point. Success has a lot of variables, which cannot be processed by the human mind at once.

9:21 Rakhi Kapur: I am against this as value systems are not at all redundant. Most parents try to teach children moral values – sharing, caring and love – apart from monitoring their daily studies. In this way the parents expect the children to become humble and wise when they grow up and have a family of their own and pass on these values to them. So, the values keep passing on from generation to generation.

9:22 Sterlin Sebastian: What are the eventual outcomes of success? Money and assets. The outcome of values are respect and honour, which will eventually turn into success from one’s point of view.

9:24 Varunya Venkatesh: I believe it’s very personal. Role models or people who inspire are different for different individuals only because their vision is different. A few might be more inclined towards success, while others towards leading a noble life. Both of them are acceptable. So I am for, and against, this statement. Respect and honour definitely add credibility to everything you say, and do. So, yes, they are important success drivers.

9:25 John Katsos: No – respect and honour are now “everyday” virtues that are achievable by us regular people. Being recognised as successful requires neither respect nor honour. Look to many modern athletes for easy examples. Michael Jordan is, by many accounts, a terrible person, but also one of the most successful athletes of all time. The two are not necessarily corollaries.

9:28 Gulf News: Role models are necessary to convey that determination and hard work help you break free from social strata.

9:32 John Katsos: Fallen heroes are just as important – if not more so – than role models. They show the world what many of us intuitively know but in dramatic form: great success involves trade-offs and if your life gets out of balance at the cost of great success, you will fail eventually.

9:34 Sterlin Sebastian: A role model is someone who has a positive influence on someone’s life, an example looked up to by others to imitate. He should be hard-working, creative, free-thinking and moral. Where can we find such people in today’s society? Once someone is made a role model, we tend to imitate them in every way, not just in what they excel at, and if they themselves turn out to be frauds, who can we trust?

9:35 John Katsos: Breaking out of social strata has always been a theme of heroes, but, again, that breaking free often comes with immense personal cost to the individual. There is a dark side to success that we are often unwilling to engage with: CEOs, super-star athletes and celebrities have higher divorce rates than the normal population for this reason. This idyllic view that one can “have it all” is not normally feasible.

9:36 Varunya Venkatesh: Once again, rather than one role model, multiple sources of inspiration is what conveys that hard work, and determination can help you break free from social strata. On the one hand, I do look at Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who was born in Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu, which is one of the places with low levels of literacy in India, and then his position currently. On the other hand, I listen to the stories of a housemaid who has ensured that her daughter receives her bachelor’s degree, and has made ends meet. Both of them inspire me. Both of them help in reassuring that determination and hard work will not go in vain.

9:41 Gulf News: Society cannot do without role models, as they help in its development.

9:42 Sterlin Sebastian: Yes, we do need role models for inspiration and to guide us in the right way, but we really need to dig in and find the right ones. We don’t necessarily need a celebrity role model. A role model can be our father, mother, teacher or a friend.

9:43 Rakhi Kapur: Yes, I feel that role models make up quite an important part of our lives as we always need someone to look up to. Otherwise we would be resting on our laurels and never aspire. As they say, the first step is always inspiration, but the rest is perspiration. We always need that boost.

9:43 John Katsos: There will never be an absence of role models as we are churning out millions of new people a day! We use role models to justify our own places in the world and our own identities. Role models are simply a tool like TV shows, movies and books. Their lives become an allegory for what success looks like right now. If they did not exist, we would construct new tools to achieve the same goals.

9:46 Varunya Venkatesh: I disagree with the statement. Rather than focusing on individuals as heroes, the society needs to start focusing more on deeds being heroic. Teaching children to look at actions, and deriving inspiration from what they imply, seems like a better thing to do. In this way, they understand that people have flaws. Everyone does. It depends on whether you can do something good. It is the deeds that matter. I’d like to have something done by someone to look up to so that I can achieve similar things based on my own perspective. Rather than who did it, I’d rather see what has been done.

9:51 John Katsos: In our lives, we try to instruct our children to be good people when they grow up. We often, though, get convinced that success is a proxy for being “good” because success is easier to measure. This is why we are shocked when successful individuals are revealed to be deeply flawed. What we often are unable to process is that these flaws actually made them successful. It may, in fact, benefit someone in terms of “success” to have deep childhood trauma. This is fundamentally opposed to what we teach our children and that is where we are often shocked. Having a healthier recognition as a society of the terrible costs – usually – of success might be in order.


Gulf News asked: The failure of a few role models should not take away from the others.

Yes 77%

No 23%


Gulf News asked: The failure of a few role models should not take away from the others.

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