Role Models

When I was little, I didn’t really have any role models — or “idols” or “heroes”, as common parlance was then. Not consciously, anyway. Whenever we were asked to talk or write about our role models and who we wanted to be like, I’d scratch my head wondering who to talk about. “Your parents,” our teachers suggested. So I’d write about my mother who I love very very much and still do respect and admire.

But even when you’re little, you realize that your parents are not always right. Now I took their word for granted far more often then than now, but still I kind of knew they’re not perfect. I remember reading this line from Arthur Miller’s play All My Sons which we studied in Years 10 and 11 (Grades 9 and 10 here), when one of the characters has to deal with the fact that his father’s committed a crime:

I know you’re no worse than most men but I thought you were better. I never saw you as a man. I saw you as my father.

Yeah, I love this play so much I brought it back with me to Canada after this summer. But I think that reflects perfectly how we expect so much more of our parents because we want them to be “better” somehow. Except, of course, our parents are as flawed and liable to make mistakes and act rashly and make poor judgements and be as uncertain as we are.

They’re also still genuinely admirable people who have sacrificed more than we’ll ever know for us. Which is why they’re still role models, even if they’re not famous superheroes — maybe they’re heroic just because no one’s ever going to praise them and that’s not what they raised us for anyway.

Somehow I’ve managed to neglect my original inspiration for this post, which was a reflection on the speech given by James Orbinski, courtesy of the Terry Speaker Series, and of listening to other speakers in general (I’m thinking of Stephen Lewis from the 2008 Student Leadership Conference).

Listening to people who have seen and done so much is, personally, very inspirational to me — I want to emphasise it’s a very personal experience. What I say, and what you hear, and what your roommate hears, can be very different.

One of the things that struck me in Orbinski’s talk was:

Choose your priorities. Don’t juggle what you have to do, because then you’re just juggling. Choose what you do.

I probably messed it up, but that’s the gist of it. It hit home at that particular moment in time because I expend so much energy trying to do everything a lot. I always want to do more too — there are so many causes out there I would like to dedicate myself to, but truthfully, no one has that much time and energy.

So just choose one. It doesn’t matter what it is — I’ve decided that between certain causes, there isn’t one that’s more “important” than another. Global warming, women’s issues, the cure for cancer — none of these are more essential than another. They are all important; there is no grand, overarching problem that needs to be solved “first” (if that is even possible) and then everything else can be tackled one by one — they all need our attention. Don’t just sign a petition or donate a dollar and believe you’ve saved a child.

Just choose one and really give your time and dedication to it. And stand in solidarity with those who work for those other causes.

If you don’t know? Keep trying until you find the right one: really try by throwing yourself in, heart and soul. Remember, too, that “the right one” can change as well.

The world is so very much more complex and interconnected than I usually realise. Listening to people I admire and respect who have seen and done and understand more than I do brings this point home every time. The world is richer than I’ll ever imagine. Even listening to people whose opinions I may not agree with still opens my vision to other ideas I’ve never known — and often it challenges me to revisit my thinking, to revise if need be or to strengthen my own rationale. And I love this, no matter how uncomfortable it is at the time.

So I am rather sad at not attending the Terry talks this Saturday. (Alert! Open spot now!) However, I do want to spend my parents’ last day visiting Vancouver with them because I love them very much. I was looking at the speakers roster and was very excited to recognise two names. I know amazing people.

Which brings me to my last point: I admire some people more quickly than others (read: Lewis and Orbinski). But the reason why little-Lillienne didn’t have specific role models is because we all have aspects about ourselves that are admirable in some way. I may not want to be identical to you because I’m not keen on taking on your flaws in addition to my own — and where would I be if I were you? — but I can still aspire to be like you in some ways. And we all have those.

Should we try to be our own role models? Maybe.

I need a new tag.

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