It’s because you recognized two things: first, there was something wrong with or missing from your life and, second, this other person seemed to have it. But what is it? I guess it seems like it could be a lot of things. It could be money or possessions. You see other people with fun toys (like the new Apple iWhatever 3) and wish you were like them. It could be better parents and siblings. Sometimes you wish your parents were cooler and you were an only child. It could be a change in your physical appearance. You wish you had the perfect skin complexion like What’s-Her-Face and a leaner physique like So-And-So. It could also be fame and power. I think this is why a lot of people idolize celebrities. We hope that, by learning everything we can about them and imitating them, we will one day rise up out of our own mediocrity and become successful and famous too. It is the seemingly perfect outward appearances of other peoples’ lives and we want it for our life.
All too often, unfortunately, we choose role models based on these outward appearances. We look up people because they’re famous even though they have characters of little substance. I think the job of a role model is to help cultivate and change us into better people on the inside. Someone once said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good…For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Our outward nature will only change if our inward nature changes. So it is our job to recognize the things inside us that we want to change and to search out people whose example can help us and inspire us to achieve that change.
For example, if you are inspired by the actions of someone like Martin Luther King Jr. (and you should be), also try to think about what kind of character traits he must have possessed to achieve those things. The sense of justice, patience, persistence, leadership, the list goes on. It was those inward character traits that led him to dream and march on Washington and not back down. How does one acquire those strong positive character traits? It takes time and the only real test is trial by fire. In other words, you learn patience by going through frustrating situations; you learn to have peace in the middle of a war; you learn self-control by going through temptation. You can look to the life of Dr. King (and many other people) to see how he dealt with many difficult circumstances, but remember, the strong inward traits preceded the bold outward actions.
I have many role models. As a scientist-in-training, I am inspired by scientists like Richard Feynman, a brilliant physicist with a gift for teaching physics and, all in all was just an interesting character (not your typical nerd). His philosophy on teaching was that if he couldn’t explain something to the most uneducated lay person, then he didn’t understand it well enough himself; I’ve since adopted it as my own philosophy when I tutor. He was dedicated, hard-working, exuberant, stubborn, and well respected by many people. Those are all traits I strive for.
Another role model of mine is my friend Paul Moore Jr. He is the COO of Citihope International, a non-profit organization that has shipped food and medical supplies to many people all over the world. He started as a teenager helping bring medicine and comfort to sick children in Belarus shortly after the Chernobyl disaster and he has been going strong ever since. He has seen many people go through hardships that not a lot of people experience in America. He has seen many terrible things in the aftermaths of natural disasters and crowded, understaffed hospitals. And, even though he has been doing it for many years, he hasn’t become calloused towards the suffering of others. He hasn’t become cynical or jaded by what governments put their people through. He works hard making a real difference in this broken world. He is a committed Christian and has encouraged me in my faith on numerous occasions. He is a fearless man, a family man, and he is one of the funniest people I know. Honestly, if I could be half as courageous, compassionate, and hilarious as him, I’d be satisfied.
Probably my greatest role model has to be the guy I quoted back in the third paragraph. Those were the words of Jesus from the Luke 6:45. Whether you are a Christian or not, Jesus is probably one of the best role models around. In fact, people used to wear bracelets that said ‘WWJD’ which meant “What Would Jesus Do?” Their purpose of course was to make you think about how Jesus would act in whatever situation you were in, but, in order to do that, you had to know something about the character of Jesus. Jesus did a lot of stuff and it all flowed from His love for people. He taught His followers to “Love your enemies,” and “Turn the other cheek.” He healed many poor and hurt (both physically and psychologically) individuals. He went to people like adulterers and lepers, who in those days were treated like….well, lepers. He may have been a little harsh with some of the religious authorities, but, again, it was out of love in an effort to break through their self-righteousness. He was humble, wise, fearless, strong, patient, et cetera ad infinitum―there have been books written about Him for the last 2000 years and they’re still going strong so there is no way I can do Him justice. He did so many things that I will never be able to do, although, in my defense, He had the unfair advantage of being the Son of God.