With the influx of characters that long graced the pages of comic books making regular appearances on the big screen and unassuming athletes like Steph Curry helping to shatter 20-year NBA records the essence of what it means to be a hero and a role model is sometimes lost in the grandeur of over usage. These titles are often carelessly ascribed to individuals as an unfair benchmark of expectations; expectations that often times fail to account for the personal character of the person being held to the standard. It is also problematic for individuals who are viewing themselves through the lens of the expectations they’ve placed on their role models – aspiring to be something they can never be – something that not even their role model may be.
To clarify this, it is important to distinguish between what it means to be a hero, superhero, and a role model.
Hero: An average run-of-the-mill hero is someone to look up to for any number of reasons – but primarily for their altruism. A hero is usually someone who has substantial accomplishments, is courageous, or someone who has done something positive that many people do not or would not do. For example, a person who voluntarily feeds the homeless, someone who thwarts an attack, or people who sacrifice their lives defending our country are all illustrative of heroism. An essential aspect of being a hero is predicated on the notion of acting for the benefit of society in spite of self.
Superhero: On the other hand, a superhero is someone who does things that the rest of us simply cannot do. They are able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, are faster than a speeding bullet, can turn water into wine, and rise from the grave. The traits of a superhero are off limits to mere mortals; all we can do is admire, worship and praise their existence from afar. Of course, most superheroes are fictional or existed well before our time, but whether they are codified in a religion or on the pages of a comic book, superheroes are a necessary part of the human existence; they help forge the imaginations of youth, comfort the anxieties of adulthood, answer unanswerable questions, and help make sense of the things beyond our control.
Role Model: A role model is a person that possesses at least one positive imitable characteristic, skill, talent, or even a career. Role models exemplify the concept of success through hard work, dedication, education, and/or practice. Now, herein lies the problem: role models are NOT superheroes, and many are not even heroes. Furthermore, a role model is not a “one-size-fits-all” arrangement. When aspiring to emulate a role model, it is essential to take from that person the things that are applicable to you. It would not make much sense for a singer to take singing lessons from a chef with no singing experience. He may be able to emulate his work ethic or commitment to community, but it would be foolish to try to learn how to perfect a skill from someone who has not perfected that skill themselves.
It is important to remember that role models are mere humans, but unfortunately, society has an obsession with perfection. Athletes and celebrities are marketed unrealistically and portrayed as heroes and sometimes even superheroes. This not only puts them out of reach of the aspirations of the average person, but also creates unrealistic models of what people should be. Furthermore, when the inevitable fall from grace occurs, the conversation swiftly changes to how these people are not good role models. I beg to differ, however, that the fact someone may not be perfect does not void the fact that they may still have some other skill worthy of imitating. It is vital for people to take what they need to help themselves grow and identify specific models who have achieved the goals one is attempting to accomplish. There is no need to deify humans; just focus on the positive and finding the guidance you need. Role models are everywhere. They don’t have to be celebrities – we just have to be mindful to not overlook them and not to expect perfection from those that aren’t overlooked.