In an interview, I heard cultural architect, futurist, and lecturer Erwin McManus talk about one of the ongoing behaviors that kids have is to dress up like their favorite superhero. Usually, they dress like the hero whose strength and power they want to imitate. Yet he discussed how this imitation of character also happens outside of childhood costumes, explaining, “I started looking across history and realized that there were men and women who lived heroic lives, and by virtue of their lives, the way they dressed actually became fashionable. So young men started dressing like those men because they wanted to become like them. And because it was easier to wear their jacket or their shirt than it was to take on their character, they actually started dressing like them, and then started acting like them.”
Heroes are powerful. In real life, they may not wear tights and a cape, but we still look up to them as role models.
John McCain tells a story from his own life that illustrates this idea:
“A former high school teacher of mine, Mr. William Ravenel, changed my life. He used his classroom as not only a way to teach English, but also to teach values, and standards, and morals. Mr. Ravenel was so admirable you wanted to be like him. And it wasn’t just me, but the other boys, as well. He seized the advantage to impart on us the honor code that was part of the school there, and the teaching of the various classics. He somehow imparted not just the telling of them but the meaning of them. That had a great impact. I have never forgotten the confidence his praise gave me.”
Oprah wrote of her appreciation for role models, as well, in an article for a Harvard publication. She wrote:
“One of the defining moments of my life came in the fourth grade, the year I was Mrs. Duncan’s student. What Mrs. Duncan did for me was to help me to not be afraid of being smart. She encouraged me to read, and she often stayed after school to work with me, helping me choose books and letting me help her grade papers. I think mentors are important and I don’t think anybody makes it in the world without some form of mentorship. Nobody makes it alone. Nobody has made it alone. And we are all mentors to people even when we don’t know it.”
Let us never take lightly the opportunity we have to make a difference in the life of a young person and its ripple effect. In being role models, we get to impart strength, integrity, and inspiration and the effects of that investment will impact others.