One of my favourite comments from this week’s At Issue came from Defining Motherhood, who said, in part:
It’s important not to mistake fame for character. As a mother, I must teach my kids the difference. On the other hand, I want my kids to be free to admire imperfect people. It is sad – for both the admirer and the admired – when vilify role models for their flaws and mistakes.
This notion — that fame and character are not the same thing, is one that I agree with wholeheartedly. I often find it interesting that the two are so frequently conflated in the media, and find it equally baffling that actors, sport stars and other people in the spot light are often held to some higher standard of behaviour simply because they are famous. Fame does not equal character, nor is fame a constituent part of character, either. Undoubtedly, the majority of people who live in the public eye are people of integrity for reasons that have nothing to do with their fame. On the other side, some people in the public eye are just not, to be blunt, very nice people, but the only difference between an actor who is a boor in real life and the mean guy who works at your local grocery store is several million dollars and a regular television gig.
It’s the second part of this quote that resonates the loudest for me, though: the idea that it’s okay to admire imperfect people, for this is what we do with role models of all stripes, every day. I believe it is human nature to seek out people whose lives inspire us to think differently about our own. Sometimes, because we are ourselves imperfect, we find ourselves drawn to people whose behaviour is less than savory, but other times, we are drawn to people who demonstrate excellence. Sometimes, we find those characteristics in the same body.
All people, whether they be pop stars, pundits or preachers, are equally capable of good and bad behaviour. The best role models teach us by example that we are the best we can be by overcoming the superficial and selfish tendencies that inhabit us all. They are not, themselves perfect, because no one ever is. It is the veneer of perfection that makes mere mortals into role models in the media, but it’s only when the cracks in the veneer are visible that a true role model is made.