Role models are important for young people to learn from and aspire to be like. We often look to the star power of sports men and women, actors or singers to guide our behaviour and thinking. Even so, parents are still the most important role models for children.
As we grow, how often do we say to ourselves, “Oh no, I’m just like my dad” or “Argh! I sound just like my mother”. Whether we like it or not, our parents influence our attitudes, behaviour, politics, beliefs, principles and viewpoints. While we do develop a sense of individuality and free thought, the people closest to us help us to shape our view of the world and our dreams for what we want to achieve in the future.
As parents, we need to be mindful of what we are modelling for our children. We need to be conscious of our behaviour, language, beliefs and actions to ensure that we are projecting the kinds of values and attitudes that we hope our children will embrace. Much of this parental influence occurs subconsciously, but we can be a little more deliberate about how to show our dreams for the types of values and character traits we desire for our children.
Adopting “family role models” is one way of openly showing how we would like our children to think and behave. Discussing the way our chosen role models behave and speak during challenging times and showing our admiration for them is a clear expression of our own values and attitudes.
I have always admired Martin Luther King Jr and consider him to be a significant and worthy role model for my children. Throughout his life, Martin Luther King Jr showed a deep Christian faith and a wisdom and passion for building a more just and fair society. Some of his most memorable quotes come from his inspiring “I have a dream” speech.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
This notion of character is critical if we want our children to enjoy a fulfilling life and make a positive contribution to society. Character is one of the Six C’s of deep learning promoted across the College and refers to the qualities of character, citizenship, collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking. Character is essential for being personally accountable and effective in a complex world including: grit, tenacity, perseverance, resilience, reliability, and honesty.
Another quote of Martin Luther King Jr that I am inspired by and often talk to students about is, “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” This wisdom applies to both men and women alike and enables us to reflect on our own behaviour when we are facing difficult times. Mr King advocated for the rights of African Americans with dignified authority and was never violent or boorish. As parents, we can model this in our own conduct when we are upset or angry about events at work or in the home.
The power of a positive role model is highlighted in this ancient tale.
There once was a king who had a son. Although in his late teens, the son looked very small and bony. His spindly legs, sunken chest, stringy muscles and a poor stamina to match, indicated that he needed help. The royal doctor suggested nutritious food and tonics to vitalise the young prince, but nothing worked. He still remained weak and under-developed. The king became very worried and wanted a solution.
One day, as good luck would have it, a wandering monk came to the king’s palace. He was given a warm welcome and was accommodated in the royal guest house. The monk, endowed with a keen power of observation, soon learnt of the king’s worry and offered to help the young prince. He asked the king to send for the royal sculptor. When the sculptor arrived, the monk asked him to carve out a statue of a fully grown up, well-built man. He wanted a full-size statue with perfectly formed muscles and biceps. The sculptor followed the instructions and made the statue ready in a short time. ‘Look here, young man,’ the monk addressed the young prince, ‘you must keep this statue in your room and look at it as often as you can.’ After saying this, the monk went away.
The young prince, having placed the statue in his room, would look at the statue every day. When he got up in the morning, he looked at the statue. As he walked in and out of the room, he looked at the statue. While sitting, studying, eating, resting, all through the day, his eyes fell on the statue. ‘Can I too have a well formed and beautiful body as this?’ the prince asked himself one day. He had developed a desire to be what he admired.
Soon, he learnt how to do physical exercises, how to lift weights, flex his muscles and follow other related rules of body building. Within a few months, the skinny, bony, young man was transformed into a strong, well-formed muscular figure. The statue had transformed a weakling into a strong man, just a statue.
Every field of life, has a statue. A sportsman has his statue, his favourite idol. A cinema goer, a scientist, a teacher, a politician, an accountant, a driver, even a thief, everyone has their own statue. The point is not whether you have a statue, but what statue you have. Does your ‘statue’ make you a complete human being? Does it take care of all your needs? That is how we must select our role model. Once a role model is selected, we can’t help becoming that. Swami Vivekananda said, ‘Take up one idea. Make that idea your life–think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.’
As Christians, being a role model for others is very important. We are to be the light of the world. We are to let our light shine. We are called to imitate Jesus, as He is the ultimate role model. Allowing others to see our light can lead others to finding Jesus. The best testimony is not what we say to others, but how we live our lives. Young children tend to pick up on what they see. If they see antisocial behaviour they’re going to mimic that behaviour and if they see good they’re going to do good.
As we struggle to be the best role models for our children, especially amid the current challenges and stresses, we can enhance our children’s sense of character by adopting family role models that reflect our desired values and ethics and the dreams we have for our children. Like the monk who helped the young prince, we too can help our children to find the right statue from which they can model their lives.
As a role model, the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr is renowned and celebrated. I will conclude by letting you ponder the power of his dream; “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together”.