To whom do we look up?
“Be a good role model for your sister,” my father always used to tell me. I had no idea what that meant. For one, my sister, who is two years younger than me, had always seemed to look up to the fictional characters from WITCH more than she has ever looked up to me. No matter how many times our parents made us wear matching dresses or read the same books, she was her own person—different from me in countless ways. Why should I have to be an example for her?
It eventually became apparent, however, how impressionable my sister can be, how easily she can get influenced even without her realizing it. She needs that influence to be positive. So do I, and so does everyone else in our generation.
In school, we are taught the theories of society and culture, the underlying lessons from history, the value of good manners and right conduct. This is how we are equipped to become the future. But in spite of what and how much we study, the world is handed over to us by influence more than by classroom teachings. We, the future, are shaped largely by the people who have an impact on us, whether that impact is positive or not.
Take, for instance, my sister, who, despite being taught in school that cleanliness is next to godliness, still learned to scrawl Avril Lavigne lyrics all over her notebook and leave schoolwork lying around the house just like her older sibling used to do.
Or, for a more real-world illustration of influence, observe fresh grads and new employees in an office environment. Newbies typically start out with the schoolyard ideals of integrity, honest labor, and healthy work relationships. But give it a few months and they learn from their more experienced coworkers how to use the office printer for personal purposes, where to gossip during work hours, and who among them can be gossiped about. Call it office culture, call it being swallowed by the system—that’s how the young ones inherit the workplace.
It’s even more disheartening when it involves persons who are supposed to be accountable to the public. It can be a young government employee learning to extend lunch break at the desk, or a youth leader being sucked into a dirty turf war between politicians. It is not uncommon to hear of an up-and-coming young leader, fresh from the halls of student government or the Sangguniang Kabataan, being taken under the wing of a public official and learning the ropes of systemic corruption.
For the rest of us who are too young to experience the wonderful world of jobs and politics, there’s always the influence of heartthrob idols and teen queens to shape our world view. They can always be our examples on how to be pretty, which clothing brands to wear, and how teenage kilig conquers all. If, one day, these show biz personalities started talking about art and science and literature and history, maybe we’d start thinking more about these, too. But alas, for now, they mostly inspire us to post teleserye quotes on Facebook to match our high school breakups.
The peers that surround us, the leaders we take cues from, the celebrities we put on a pedestal—these are the people that tend to have a huge impact on us. But more often than not, they teach us to give in to the rusty norms of a perverse world: to be sly in order to be practical, to be superficial in order to feel normal. When we are influenced with that, it can be easy to forget the values we should have learned in GMRC.
And if the influence we get from the people we revere is not constructive, who is left for us to look up to?
We have to seek them out ourselves. It is not enough for us to passively accept the influence we are handed; we have to find better heroes and heroines.
Fortunately, there isn’t really a shortage of admirable role models for our generation. It’s just a matter of knowing them. It would definitely help if TV shows and magazines talked more about Malala Yousafzai or Boyan Slat instead of just Kardashians and KathNiel every single day. But even if the truly inspiring educators, carers, and innovators do not appear enough on mainstream media, we can always learn about them on our own. That’s one of the things “unli” Internet is good for.
Of course, we shouldn’t have to look further than within our own families. Ideally, we learn our values for life and build our world views from the sound examples of our parents (and yes, of our older siblings). Ideally. While no parent (or sibling) is perfect, there are experiences to tell of, mistakes to learn from, and advice to share about how to deal with unscrupulous bosses without getting fired, or how to avoid gossiping without being labeled a snob.
Maybe this is why my father wants me to be my sister’s role model: because I probably have at least two better pieces of advice for her than a Kardashian would.
My sister has turned out all right. If she really does see me as a role model, I’d be honored, but also a little concerned. Because time and time again, she has proven to be more in touch with her values than I am; her wide-eyed approach to life constantly makes me sorry I yelled at her for borrowing my schoolbag in high school. Really, I wish her luck if she considers me one of her role models, because the strange truth is, she’s one of mine.
* * *
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.