We don’t tend to watch TV talent shows or a lot of sport in our house. I see how easily children (and adults) can become overly impressed with celebrity, with superficial adoration from a crowd, with narrow, one-sided ideas of success and achievement that, rather peculiarly, seem to exclude almost everything that is truly good in the world. And yet somehow modern media and its ideas of good role models has got to our youngest child: through kids’ TV, through school friends, through films and radio. She has been fed this notion of being noticed, of being the centre of attention as some kind of ambition. Like so many young people these days her list of “Things to Be When I Grow Up” includes a singular rather than a group mentality.
For me, the best people are not celebrities, not sportsmen and sportswomen, not winners, not rich, not on TV talent shows, not actors, not royalty, not in government; not Richard Branson, David Beckham, Barrack Obama, Cheryl Cole, not even J.K. Rowling or the lovely Stephen Fry. No, for me, the best people are the ones we will never know: the ones not striving for recognition, power, money, top jobs, top positions, top earnings, or top speeds. Our best role models are the people we may probably never meet or just never notice. We may pass them in the street without being awestruck, they may stand quietly behind us in the queue, they might deliver our online shopping or serve lunches at our children’s schools.
Once in a while you might catch a glimpse of them in a newspaper photo holding a placard in a crowd, or their head bobbing amongst many on a TV screen as they join in striving for a better world. Just one in a number fighting for a cause, content to be one of many, part of a struggle, part of a solution.
The photo next to a description of a true hero, a true role model, is an empty box. They don’t want our attention or strive for our adoration. We must find our role models in ourselves and accept that the true heroes are lost in the crowd -because by singling ourselves out for some higher place, we put ourselves before others and therefore we can no longer be the best we can be.
I don’t know exactly who all the true role models are for me and my children, but I know they are out there and I know what they do. They think well of others, they help others, they think about their actions and how they impact on others. They teach, they nurse, they fix, they heal; they inspire quietly, slowly and indirectly through consistent goodness and thoughtfulness and not by some crazy drive for individual achievement.