I heard a discussion on Radio London this morning about role models. A term came up that I’d not heard before as an alternative – ‘Goal-models’ – people who aren’t neccesarily who you want to be, but may have achieved something you wish you’d achieved, or are planning to achieve….
The whole notion of role-modeling is fraught with problems, not least of all in how we define success. Two were mentioned on the radio this morning as being common choices of ‘role model’ – the first was Richard Branson, and the other Muhammad Ali… to both, my response was ‘WTF?’ – Ali spent his ‘working’ life attempting to inflict brain damage on his opponents before they did the same to him, and is now a shell of a man thanks to having been punched about as a job. His ‘success’? fame, money and a lot of other people equally fucked up thanks to him pounding them with his fists. Great role model.
Branson? The dude who talks about his concern for the environment but is still going ahead with his plan to offer the first commercial flights into space… He seems incapable of recognising that protecting the planet is going to require LESS flying, not just ‘greener’ flying. Branson is a shining example of someone imprisoned by their wealth, unable to make the ethical decisions that are staring him in the face, thanks to the constraints of his enormous financial empire.
Neither of them are people I’d want to model myself on, or would want my kids looking up to…
The problem seems to be that ‘success’ is measured in terms of surface things – wealth, fame, ‘power’, desirability… none of which are ‘qualities’, just consequences of luck, by and large… There are venal mendacious scumbags that are rich, and poor. There are inspiring famous people, but equal numbers of inspiring poor unknowns… Ordinary people living extraordinary lives. People who make alchemical magic out of the clay of their own lives. Who don’t need to transcend their situation to shine, but instead, transform anywhere they are into a place of grace and redemption and inspiration.
Most of the people who inspire me are of modest wealth, little or no fame, and most of them are parents – bringing up kids is just about the biggest and most exciting responsibility anyone can have, investing in the formation of an independent mind and spirit, setting them off on their journey… So I look at people who spend the time required to give their kids that kind of start, who invest in the things that matter, and I’m inspired. I want to be mindful as they are mindful, even though I don’t have kids.
The other people who inspire me are those who choose to walk away from ‘fame’ for the sake of doing the deeper thing, whether it be working for a smaller company so you can have an positive impact, staying at home to raise their kids, or even just playing the music that’s in their heart and mind instead of trying to write lowest common denominator music just to meet a marketing man’s idea of what will sell…
Bottom line is, ‘roles’ and ‘goals’ are transient ephemeral things – you can have an impressive role in life and still be a scumbag, or you can work in a chip-shop and change the lives of the people you work with just by being kind, friendly, generous and creative.
Maybe we need ‘journey-models’ – people who just do what they do with a degree if dignity, grace, generosity and selflessness that is worthy of emulation, regardless of their station in life or the ‘goals’ they have reached or will reach…by