In my life, I have had many negative role models and one heavenly role model. My negative role model, my brother, modeled many behaviors that didn’t serve me well in life, including a biting sarcasm and his loathe of Christianity. Yet, I love him all the same.
But my heavenly role model, my boyfriend, models empathy, social skills, and compassion. He also models ingenuity, physical fitness, creativity, and wisdom. (And I’m now a Christian, thanks to my boyfriend.)
Ever since modeling my social behaviors on my boyfriend’s ways, I’ve had euphoric moments, including countless positive interactions with others. You see, my boyfriend develops friendly rapport with everyone he meets, from CEO’s to homeless people. And when we stroll in the summer sun, he greets everyone with a warm smile and a friendly chat. He even says all the right words?the ones that light up faces and spread smiles.
Southwick and Charney in their book Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, discuss the working of role models.
For one, say Southwich and Charney, every healthy child you encounter likely has one or more positive role models. Family and teachers can be positive role models as well as famous people or even movie characters.
As a child, a friend of mine had two beautiful Christian parents. Whenever I entered their home, I entered a fantasy world where peace and harmony reigned. Her parents would pour me hot cocoa and feed me whole wheat cookies and we’d sit around and talk about God. I felt so nervous with all the attention that my hands would shake and I would often spill my cocoa on the carpet. But they actually listened to what I had to say, and they helped me find positive solutions to problems. To this day, I’m in touch with that family.
And my friend, the child of the Christian parents, always shone. She shone in beauty, in sports, in academics, and in spirituality. Even though jealous schoolmates terrorized and physically tortured her, my friend kept her dignity, spirituality, and composure. And later, she developed a successful career and a happy home life, passing on that fantasy world of peace and harmony to yet another generation of lucky youth.
But negative role models also exist. Southwick and Charney say these negative ones can motivate you to avoid certain actions. For instance, one adult in my life got drunk almost nightly. The behaviors he engaged in alarmed me, and I vowed never to drink myself. As a result, I haven’t drunk a drop of alcohol in over twenty years.
Southwick and Charney also say that abused children benefit from at least one role model who supports and encourages them. I had a wonderful grade four teacher who adored me. She encouraged me to answer math questions at lightning speed and to sit at the front of the class. Mind you, I didn’t have many friends that year, but I did have an ally in my dear teacher.
Children also need to learn skills of self-soothing, according to Southwick and Charney. I remember one particularly dreadful year. That summer, the year before grade seven, my friends consisted of four tough girls who got low grades. I didn’t fit in with them, and they treated me accordingly.
That year, one afternoon, lying on my bed, I wondered if I would fall victim to cancer. I had nothing to keep myself busy but thoughts of troubled health or of ongoing victimization by my circle of tough friends. If I had known how to soothe myself, I may have spent more time seeking out self-help books to read. I would have ditched the friends for books. I would have loved to have attended a church as well.
We didn’t have a lot of money, so I didn’t have a lot of hobbies to do independently. But library books are free. If only I had known of a genre of books called self-help.
We also learn by imitating others: watching others, listening to others, or reading about what others say, according to Southwick and Charney. I like to read books on resilience, achievement, and happiness. By reading expert views on positive emotions, I develop more productive ways of thinking.
I also try imitating the empathic nature of my boyfriend. Whenever someone feels bad, he feels an overwhelming compassion. He sometimes problem solves that person’s issues and always provides comfort. Many people describe him as their greatest mentor.
When I first met my boyfriend, I had gone through a deep state of long-term suffering. He held my hand and nurtured me back to health. He turned my life around, and he showered me with love. Now I find myself seeking ways to nurture others who suffer.
When you meet a resilient person, imitate their healthy behaviors. My boyfriend exercises frequently and has done so his whole life. He eats healthy and he synthesizes wisdom like a sage. He never swears. He doesn’t gossip. He reads extensively and develops skills daily. Now, imitating him, I do most of the same. I feel greater happiness in one hour in his company than I ever felt my entire life.
So, find your role-models, whether they be friends, teachers, family, or people you’ve never met. Do the healthy things they do. And avoid doing anything the negative role models do. Most importantly, learn how to soothe yourself for those times when role models seem hard to find.