Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Lost Concept?

Her gentle demeanor belies her razor sharp wit. Alka Gurha of Freebird fame, not only happens to be one of my favourite bloggers but also my favourite blogger friend. Painfully shy, yet so warm, you can't help but fall in love with her. As a writer, she's well-informed, her language impeccable and her wit is like a cherry on the icing.

In this post, Alka reflects on the dying concept of Role Models.

Read on....

‘Who is your role model and why?’ used to be a common essay topic while I was in school.  There were options – Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, parents, grandparents. 


Two decades later, when my son was in school the topic morphed to, ‘Do we need role models and why?’ 


Today the concept of role models has lost relevance. We want to chart our own paths, role models be damned. 


For one, there is a serious dearth of role models. And since definitions of morality are in a state of flux, black and white have merged together to give us more acceptable shades of grey. What was wrong a decade ago does not evoke the same outrage today. 


Income tax raids ruined reputations. You could be a party president today.


A corrupt cop in a Bollywood movie was a baddie. Today he is the mainstream hero who mints millions.
Women drinking in pubs were unacceptable. It is a sign of liberation today.



Unfortunate though it is, staying perched atop the moral pedestal has become increasingly difficult. Be it Tiger Woods, Bill Clinton, Lance Armstrong or Rajat Gupta - the perceived role models are under intense scrutiny.  Every move of theirs is scanned, exposed and served on a platter to be dissected by the media.  It is a tightrope walk across the hall of fame. People wait for you to slip.


Another idol who turned out to have feet of clay is Lance Armstrong.  Once the initial outrage about the use of performance enhancing drugs subsided, we realized that it is not easy to look at the picture from the prism of right or wrong. The onslaught of tweets like, “Your government cheats you of your taxes, your bank cheats you of your hard earned savings, but Lance is who you should be angry with”( @Jonathan Witt) suggested that most of us live in glass houses. 


Lance was caught. Many went scot free. Ditto with Rajat Gupta.


Someone else’s embarrassment is always a shared pleasure.


Funny, how we instinctively rally around celebrities to propel them on a moral platform. Soon we, along with the media begin to pull the same people down. It appears as if there is great fun in the entire act of hoisting and de-hoisting celebrities. 


This reminds me of Anna Hazare, who has disappeared from the media glare.  For a Gandhi reincarnate who was going to purge the nation of corruption, Anna does not enjoy the same status as he did last year. I doubt if Anna has had a change of heart. Where is the deluge of ‘I am Anna’ caps? 


Along with Anna, the issue of corruption has also left the centre stage. The burning issue today is gender equality and safety for women. Along with idols, news is also getting ephemeral with the emergence of new news. The only thing shorter than public memory is public enthusiasm. 


Very few like Sachin Tendulkar or Amitabh Bachchan have managed to stay afloat as role models. Sachin survived miraculously after his Rajya Sabha nomination. Some were ready to lynch him then and there. Amitabh went through a phase when he was pilloried for everything from acting, to politics, to business. Somehow he has managed to rise like a phoenix.


Given that movies mirror reality and vice versa, Bollywood has become meaner and darker over the years. Sooraj Barjatya’s sugary sweet movies are said to cause diabetes. It is the Dabanggs we love to watch. Perhaps we are grappling with the good bad and the bad good.


So what does this mean?

Since the role model concept is increasingly becoming irrelevant, it is best to draw inspiration from the grit and determination of Lance, the resolve and will power of Anna and the intellect and perseverance of Rajat Gupta. 


Perhaps it’s best to accept that to err is human. But to learn from mistakes is divine.


“Role models? Are they the ones who walk on the ramp?” asks my seven year old nephew. 
Courtesy - Cartoonday.com
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58 comments:

  1. Sadly today, it is the Bollywood heroes/heroins, Miss Inida/Miss Universe and the likes who are the role models of the present generation. The major influence being the media, who hype and hype as if there is no tomorrow.
    Parents today put their kids through the rigmarole of making them learn each and everything under the Sun. All good intentions are superficial.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. With Bollywood it has more to do with following a certain hairstyle, a fashion style...but truly
      there arent many in Bollywood whose life is worth emulating..

      Delete
  2. The role models today are spindly models and beef cake heroes. Money and looks are emulated. When parents are this competitive and materialistic, who will keep the kids grounded? Come to think of it, my role model were my parents. I hope my kids will find us good enough to emulate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A lot depends on what one is looking for. Is it success? Achievements? Heroism? Sacrifice?

      In the times we live, parents are the best bet.

      Delete
  3. One has to look for role models not through the eyes of populism but through the idea which you want to derive the inspiration from. My grandpa always said that a man would inevitably have flaws, no matter how great he is. His belief was that one must follow the idea which you admire rather than the person who follows that same idea famously.
    Today when almost everyone is busy chasing money and sign of prosperity is materialism, it is kinda obvious that there is a huge scarcity of great role models. Which results in negotiating the acceptable aspects of one ideal's personality, like Lance.
    Nice article, cheers !!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Its personal too...my role model need not be yours. Its all about which facets inspires us the most...heroism, success, sport...

      Delete
    2. Thank you for reading Manu.

      Delete
  4. It is a streak of scepticism that has crept into everything mostly our outlook. Do we actually 'believe' in anything as that would stand the test of time? Cynicism is what we transmit down to gennext be it a political mandate or an Indian Idol we are not sure how sincere the efforts behind the success story is. Is it bought? Does it have an ulterior motive? Or an axe to grind? Well as long as doubt infringes our acceptance we would keep on averting a role model.

    Thought provoking article...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Geetashree...the cynicism and skepticism force us to look for new heroes all the time.And its impossible to agree on a universal hero. My role model could be another mans villain. A good example is Modi.

      Delete
  5. I think the new role models for the 21st century are - Shiny Objects. No wonder they last only as long as their 15-minutes of fame. After that, their luster is done...and we are all onto our next glittering toy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What is it that we are looking for? Do we emulate Narayan Murthy for his entrepreneurship or his philanthropy? Or Both?

      Delete
  6. I think somewhere down the line we've forgotten the true worth of character over personality, Alka. And that's where the problem is. The role models of today are large personalities but often of questionable character. Growing up, our role models would be a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, a social worker - unknown people, but who stood out for their strength, courage and willingness to serve at personal cost.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True. Anna appeared to be a generous mix of both character and personality, but he somehow lost his way...

      Delete
  7. We have a dearth of heroes. One of the reasons is the declining values and the other is celebration of mediocrity. No one is ready to strive hard. In the age of 24 hrs news and entertainment channels with their talent hunt and other such competitions, we are all ready to celebrate mediocrity. In earlier days, a reputed guru will never allow his disciple to perform on stage unless he/she is ready. With too many stage shows, people don't have time to practice and fine tune their craft and raise it to art form.

    All my heroes have failed me. Lance Armstrong was the last remaining one. He too has fallen. Today, I no longer look for heroes. Instead, I try the best I can do to change things. Is that enough? May be not. However, all of us can try to be heroes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perhaps time to chart our own destinies and learn from mistakes. Yes, Lance was a big disappointment.....

      Delete
  8. May be your 7 year old nephew is right.. the only models left are the ones walking on the ramp. But I agree. We should make peace with the fact that to errr is human... and that's what Lance or other people at the high pedestal did.

    Glad to read you here as well Alka :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Well, as we start accepting the bad along with the good, this was bound to happen. And I am glad it did. Maybe sometime down the line, little kids will not be pressurized to be like someone and the parents will understand that they are kids, not rats to be experimented upon.
    We're better off without role models, I think. That gives us the space to be ourselves and commit mistakes and learn from them :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your comment captures a true snap shot of a young nations mind. Thank you for reading Akansha.

      Delete
  10. Left to myself,personally,Sardar Patel.
    But,it has changed for generation of after 1980. Their priorities,their expectations from life,their concepts have taken a different course.
    Present generation,I am sure,would look at those who are visible in any field of achievment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Today, not many would know about Sardar Patel. His modern diminished version is Modi who has no universal acceptance.

      Delete
  11. I don't like the idea of 'role models' simply because it is every individual's duty to live a life of integrity and thus be a role model. Every individual is unique and cannot be a model for another, strictly speaking. But everyone can live honestly...

    When the system is corrupt, citizens will be corrupt!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The concept is dead indeed. Like you, most want to shape their own destinies and learn from their own mistakes.

      Delete
  12. To date, even when people ask me or they don't, I keep telling that my mamaji (mom's brother) is my role model. No one set the example. It's just the deeds they do, their behaviour and personality that attracted me and drives me to be a honest person each day. At the same time, I don't know if I will be a role model to my kids..Even if I point someone, they may cite the same thing..why should we follow others? why can't we be our own? I have always enjoyed reading you, Alka :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. I guess it makes sense to learn from the mistakes of others and follow your own heart.

      Delete
  13. And that last line was the icing on the cake! The problem is that we have stopped wanting to do things and started wanting to acquire things - we need role models for doing things - to acquire things, all you need is the necessary acquisitiveness - and a singular morality - that anything that gets in the way only needs to be brushed aside - be it people or morals :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Suresh for reading.We are all looking for different things in life...success, money, fame...sometimes a mix of all the above.
      Many admire Narayan Murthy. Some for his entrepreneurship, some for his wealth accumulation and some for his philanthropy.Morality and character are essential for being a true hero.

      Delete
    2. My point was restricted Alka! There was a time when we wanted to become engineers, doctors, professors even bureaucrats - the ideas about our future encompassed what we intended to do in addition to and as a means for getting money and fame. Success also meant succeeding in a profession of choice.

      Now the choice is primarily money, success starts with monetary success (and monetary success always means a significant excess over what you can expect to spend in a lifetime) - and thereafter the professional choices are made to sub-serve the goal of making money.

      Your role models come into play when you have an ideal of what you want to achieve in terms of what you do - a would-be doctor has doctor ideals; a would-be engineer has engineer ideals etc.

      When your achievement target is money alone - and earned by doing whatever needs doing - then you have the gamut from Narayanamurthy to Harshad Mehta (with the caveat that you do not get caught in the latter case :) ). With such profusion comes confusion and eventually people tend to dispense with the idea of role models. :)

      Delete
    3. True, when making money is the sole objective, things do get muddled. However, there are some who have made money and used it wisely for humanity....Tata, Bill Gates. They may not be universal heroes though.

      Delete
  14. I must admit that I do not believe in the concept of role models. You can never know a person completely to base your thoughts and life on his. There are flaws in everyone.
    I might admire someone for his courageous act, I might be in awe of someone for his contribution to the society but I do not understand the concept of trying to be someone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why do we need role models any way? They tell us how to achieve goals or they inspire us in certain ways. But in present times, most wish to carve their own destinies. The concept is increasingly becoming redundant.I don't want a role model either.

      Delete
  15. Perhaps it’s best to accept that to err is human. But to learn from mistakes is divine,i really liked this reference !! its applicable to all human beings including our role model!!
    having said that , we often forget role models are not the one whom media makes role model for their own reasons !
    role model need not be big names ,, dey can b one's teacher ! or parents or even a engineer(dr.kurien) ,a banker (dr.yunus) or a doctor( dr.V) guys whom media gives no attention but who inspires millions like us with der selfless services :)
    i must say yr post was grt :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for reading and appreciating. Media creates and demolishes heroes for their own good. Personally, my father and the metro man, Mr Sreedharan are two people I admire.

      Delete
  16. Loved this one - "The only thing shorter than public memory is public enthusiasm."
    There are no role models today as we suddenly realize that the world is not black and white anymore and the shades of grey is predominant even in the erstwhile role models. Unfortunately, most commonly, the role models under one category morph into an ideal in all categories. A cricketer is a role model for cricket and not for running the government which needs able administrators.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for liking the post. I can't thank Purba enough for publishing this post here.

      True, we all look for different qualities. It is tough to find universal acceptance.

      Delete
  17. More than the lack of positive role models,what disturbs me today is the gamut of negative role models we hear of & see every day.We have all seen how,when a well known corruptician is being taken by the cops-he smiles & waves to hordes of followers who agitate against his capture.Neither he,nor his fans are one bit ashamed of his doings.And there must be quite a few who would be nursing ambitions of becoming as infamous as him.After all hardly any damage is done to such persons--arrested today,reinstated tomorrow.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, bad is the new good today.It is fascinating actors and politicians alike.

      When Rajas supporters garland him after he emerges from jail and when Salman is idolized as a corrupt cop, it's worrisome .

      Delete
  18. Lately, I read an article in Time Magazine in which the author warned us against the idolizing of Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Kim Kardashian, Harry Styles, Taylor Swift and the likes. The kids today are not just listening to their songs but also reading about their lives and the scandals.
    Some days ago, a hopeless father wanted help from my husband. His only daughter, who was once a bright student, is not now busy trying to look like real Barbie and making as many boyfriends. None of her role models is a scientist or a politician. She just wants to be like Taylor Swift and a Russian Girl who looks like Barbie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mousami, I get your point. These are media created idols for teens.
      But they are ephemeral.....one rises before another falls with a thud.

      Delete
  19. these days we hop between role-models as and when needed..
    neither people are certain about who they want to follow or become and nor we have people with higher intellect n demeanor around us... everything is wrapped in sheer commercialization..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Commercialization has compounded confusion..... the Ms India contestants have stopped quoting Mother Teressa.

      Delete
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    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had turned down your invite in one of the mails we had exchanged.

      Thank you again for the offer.

      Delete
  21. Dang man/woman--does that mean there are no role models around? I am begining to think furiously for it makes me so nervous. ok how about Vandana Shiva and her fight against GMO--she has stayed consistent for a decade! And Sunita Rao and her fight against human trafficking--she has stayed firm and focused.
    I pull an imaginary hat over my head and cower--no, no, no--don't tell me anything terrible about them. I have lost enough role models, let me hang onto some... [Alka, a bulls-eye post or rather a dot-on post, thanks]

    ReplyDelete
  22. Hang on to them Bhavana. There are very few left who can survive the intense media scrutiny or the lure of fame and money.

    ReplyDelete
  23. You were right, Purba. Alka’s writing is always incisive and food for thought.

    Alka, who knows if in this day and age of intense scrutiny and dissection of their every action, role models of old would’ve remained larger than life.

    In the end, we are human and that means there is some good and some bad in all of us and even that varies from day to day. Makes it difficult to have role models. Instead, we learn to make judgement calls based on our own astuteness or ignorance, affiliations, prejudices, sense of fair play, even moods. The only thing that makes me wary is someone mouthing someone else's opinions.

    ReplyDelete
  24. As I write, another hero falls......Oscar Pistorius.
    Thanks for reading dear.

    ReplyDelete
  25. tot agree.. the whole concept of role models look flawed in today's world. Moreover 24x7 scrutiny have left it more confusing than in past.

    Weakest LINK

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Rachit for reading. True, with 24/7 media scrutiny some dirt is bound to stick.

      Delete
  26. Role-models exist, whether consciously or subconsciously, it is not something that one decides on. My understanding is that parents are the default (1st choice) role models, and other role models come in to take the space parents could not occupy or ceded. Also, it should be clear that anyone we like or appreciate is not necessarily a role model, though someone we respect is quite likely to be a role-model.

    To me a good role-model would be one whose heart is in the right place, and not just because they are celebrities, or at the pinnacle of their field, or that they are perfect (otherwise parents could never be one). By that logic, I think Sachin & Amitabh are not good role models – both have on many occasions shown traits that did not go well with their status.

    To be a good role-model, parents need to devote time & effort; it is far easier to attempt to erase the concept, so no surprise that few people talk about role-models today. Parents have largely outsourced their responsibilities to schools, day-care and maids, perhaps the role-models have been outsourced too…

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Celebrities may or may not be role models depending on their worth of character and not so much on their personalities. Sachin and Amitabh do stand out. But opinions are divided. Most comments by young readers have given a thumbs down to the concept.
      The thought of outsourcing role models made me smile. Perhaps it's true to some extent.
      Thank you for penning your thoughts.

      Delete
  27. All along the post, I kept wondering who is my role model and I relaised I dont have one, but yes I do like some specific qualities of some speicific people. And these people are not neccessarily famous personalities, but instead are my managers, co workers, friends and family. The so called role models are losing out because one of them soon ends up having a tarnished image. And the media today, takes no time in either 'making' or 'breaking' a person.

    Having said that, my brother (who cycles in the national level) still likes some qualities of Lance amstrong, inspite of his doping. I would reframe it as-> he likes some qualities of his former role model.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Jenny, Lance sure has an indomitable will. But it turned out that he was human after all. Ditto with Oscar Pistorius. I don't have any role models but I do admire the dedication of Sachin, the humility of Amitabh, the eloquence of Barkha Dutt and the integrity of metro man...Sreedharan.

    ReplyDelete

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