Worthy Role Models?

In elevating to a level of demiworship people with big bucks, we have been destroying the values of our future generation. We need a total rethinking of who the heroes are, who the role models are, who we should be honoring.

–Rabbi Benjamin Blech, professor of philosophy of law at Yeshiva University, on the downfall of disgraced financier Bernard Madoff (quoted in the New York Times).

What role models does Western culture give us, especially to our children?

Sports stars.
TV and film celebrities.
Rich people.
Skinny, pretty people.

What values do these role models typically display?

The importance of making money.
Obsessive focus on physical beauty.
Fame at any cost.
Physical prowess not necessarily accompanied by good sportsmanship.
Manipulative public relations.

Now, of course there are rich and famous people who do good works and display honorable morals and ethics. Some celebrities stay in committed, healthy marriages for many years (Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, married for twenty years, come to mind) and others, like Bill and Melinda Gates, give massive amounts of their personal wealth away to charitable works or live in such a way that they embody more noble ideals (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, for example, is an environmental activist and built an eco-friendly, energy-efficient home).

In Waldorf education the children are given examples from history and legend of those who are worthy of imitation. In second grade, they learn of the saints and hear fables and animal stories that speak to their growing sense of morality. In third grade, Old Testament stories further their internal explorations into right and wrong. In fourth grade, the Norse myths speak in yet a different way of the fables of the mighty and the low. Throughout all the grades, a progression of study of ancient and modern cultures and “heroes” such as Abraham Lincoln or Gandhi deepens the understanding of both the human condition, and what is noble and what is not.

I would hazard the comment that there are two roots to the problem of poor role models in Western culture: materialism and the cult of individual personality. We have lost sight of the importance of the soul/spiritual world in favor of acquisition of material goods, and we have forsaken the higher social purpose of our labors for the fool’s gold of propping up our astrality and lower ego forces. And so what do we hold up as precious? The glitter of fame and wealth and the passing fancy of surface beauty.



Filed under Anthroposophy, Deep Thoughts, Rants, waldorf education

20 responses to “Worthy Role Models?

  1. Hear hear! This is why I’m always amazed when people criticize me for bringing up my children without media and pop culture. How often have I heard that they are “missing out” in some way. Yet I’m so happy to look at their role models: caring teachers, my students, my friends, the babysitter (a visual artist) and all the heroes and heroines from their stories. Currently Old King Wenceslas tops the list for my 6 year old, but for my 9 year old I think it’s still the Eurythmy teacher!

    I’d like to add one thing though that I think is connected with the “propping up” of astrality and lower ego forces: I see around me (oh yes, and in me too) a real lack of strong will forces, and I see that as the root cause of everything you have described.

  2. Kirsten: Yes, as Mon said in her comment in the previous post, “We are so accustomed to things made easier for us that we don’t realise that there’s another way to perceive how we do things.” I see that all the time with media consumption — people look at me like I’m speaking Greek when I say that not watching TV is an option! It’s just so much easier to go with the general flow of society and plug in all the time.

  3. Oh yes! And this is even more challenging when you are not able to afford waldorf schools or if homeschooling is not an option. I work hard to keep our home low media, natural and filled with beauty… but I work even harder to help the girls navigate their way while out and about in our society. Such a task we have as mothers! I’d love to hear more about how you are managing it with your little ones.

  4. Penny in VT

    YES! And why is it that some can see this so very obvious fact, while others miss the boat entirely?

    Are they too mired in society? Am I?

    Excellent. Just excellent.

  5. Mon

    This is something that really bugs me. When I listen to many young people speak, their conversations are peppered with celebrity names. These people ARE influencing our society’s children, they ARE role models and that’s really bloody scary and sad.

    A meme I recently filled out asked which celebs I admired. I thought, ‘that’s just such a sign of our times’.

    I think that if you asked teens who they admired, their list would include celebrities, and questionable ones at that. Yes, it’ll be the beautiful ones, the ‘successful’ ones. You know, I’m going to ask my three nieces what well-know person they most admire. Although I’m afraid to.

  6. I’ve ranted on about this a lot lately but what I’m finding especially worrying at the moment is how the media chooses role models and then distorts them. One example that bothers me is Angelina Jolie – and I’m not criticising her personally – I’m troubled by how the media has seized her as a role model for women and has then gone on to project her, impossibly, as Superwoman. “Look, Angelina has six children and is skinny and beautiful, even though she’s just given birth to twins, and she *still* manages to look glamorous on the red carpet and to have a full-time film career. What about you, eh, ordinary woman, who looks crappy and is barely coping looking after one measly child?? If Angelina can do all this, why can’t you?” I read a magazine article recently (in a cafe or somewhere – I’ve stopped buying these things) about Angelina cooking breakfast for Brad and the six kids, as if this was a daily event. It was so funny – yet disturbing because the story made out it was true. People believe this stuff! The photos show her sailing around carrying toddlers but miss out the bodyguards and nannies in the background, yet how many people realise this? This, to me, says a lot, not only about the lack of effective role models for women and girls, but how feminism has been turned into a stick to beat us with. “You can have it all!” But why would I even want to try?

  7. This is so true. I’m curious now, about what my daughter would say if I asked her who her role models were.

  8. Nana

    Let’s look at all of this celebrity hero worship for what it really is – a way for mediocre people to make lot’s of money. All of those media types of people who write those inane articles and appear on those “entertainment tonite” shows make mighty big bucks by elevating other unworthy and sometimes even less-than-mediocre people like Paris Hilton into status symbols. If the media types jam it down our throats for a long enough amount of time, we’ll eventually believe it’s gotta be true!

    This media hype stuff becomes hypnotic and stupid folks or vulnerable youngsters become addicted to this. Who the eff cares about Brittany Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Brangelina and the rest of them?

    The TV bozos DID cancel the real life shows of Lindsay’s mom, Pamela Anderson, Paula Abdul and Denise Richards. Why, you ask? Because the advertisers weren’t getting enough shopping $$$ from the socio-economic demographic group at which these shows were aimed. I spot a trend here…

    Finally, THIS IS NOT REAL LIFE! The honest, hard working, decent folks out number the bozos and the bimbos by a ginormous amount. We just don’t have the media coverage. There are more honest, hard working, decent teens in this world than troubled teens. They just don’t get the PR!

  9. Exactly.

    We are battling a bit the balance as the boys are older. It is so much easier (to me, anyway) when they are young and there is no outside influence of toys or kids or media. As they get older, well, they live in the world. They dn’t know much about ‘stuff’ yet, but still…we don’t live in a bubble. And they need to be able to manage their experience within popular culture as they mature, but this in between age – hmmm.

    My boys have been asked questions like that before and my youngest has no idea what the question is, but my 5 year old goes between a family member (mom, dad, grandma) and Bode Miller. 😉

  10. wow, your brain is chuggin’ along @ this time of year?? I’m impressed! I can’t even remember what to buy at the market, hehe.

    Merry Christmas, friend!

  11. As I see my daughter coming into the world (13 now!) I feel good about having been over protective about media images. I see her seeking out strong women in the community, not idolizing teenage pop stars but questioning their value, and finding depth in the real world. I see some girls her age lost and already giving up on the beauty of the world or not finding their own value because they don’t fit the media image of a “beautiful person”, I really don’t think we are sheltering children from anything by not exposing them to media. I really think we are giving them the freedom to find and express themselves in healthy ways; in many ways by protecting them from this we are actually giving them deeper access to the rest of the world.

  12. Alida

    I’m still thinking about this post and gathering my thoughts for a comment.

    Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah.

    I thought about your son as Luke opened his Lego Agents set 🙂

  13. Another reason to be so THANKFUL that Waldorf education is an option for us.
    A few months ago my 13 year old asked me who my role models were when I was her age. Maybe a handful of rock stars(mostly ones who were actually talented as well as educated). She stated that kids her age had NO ONE to look up to. The “heros” and “idols” thrown in their faces are Lindsey Lohan, Brittany Spears, Paris Hilton… I felt so sad for her and at a loss to think of a few worthy people that would appeal to a kid her age. I am glad to hear of her disdain for those people! I don’t see our lack of media in the home as sheltering. It’s simply just not a part of our life. She does get exposure at other kids homes-enough to give her a taste of what’s out there and a bit of commonality with friends who are growing up with TV. But so far i don’t see it having much influence.
    She looks up to a couple great teachers at school as well as some of our young adult friends. REAL people.

  14. Personally, I believe that if you want to raise children who have a chance at being “real” you absolutely must not have a television in your home until they are old enough to read well.

    I am 55 years old, and my parents did not buy a television until Neil Armstrong was going to be televised taking his first step on the moon. My folks decided that this was an event that was worthy of being seen, and so purchased our first television set. I was almost 16 years old.

    Of course, I had seen tv at our friends’ homes, but it was not a pervasive influence.

    It is also a good idea to spend some quality time with your children analyzing exactly what the messages are that are encapsulated in media advertising, giving them some hope of being able to see how they are being manipulated and thus being able to help defuse the power of the images.

    When we took Jesse on as a foster child with the aim to adopting him later, we were very clear with him. We told him this: There are two rules that will never be broken in this house. We will not purchase soft drinks. There will never be a video gaming system of any kind in this house, not one connected to the TV, the computer or hand held. If you can’t live with these rules, then don’t bother to come to live here, because we are not going to change our minds about these two things.

    Frankly, I also believe that access to instant communication devices for little children is a bad thing. Children need to learn how to get along with people, not with electronic devices. Additionally, there is strong evidence that using cell phones for long periods of time promotes certain brain and auditory nerve and salivary gland cancers. Especially when children use them. They are useful for emergencies, but this absolute need to be connected at all times scares me.

    I see people walking around the store, talking on a cell phone the whole time, blathering on with their subconscious data dump to the person on the other end. If that was me, I’m afraid I would hang up on them.

  15. Eve

    I enjoyed Helen’s response to this post, Anthromama. I too think that the media has quite a role in creating and maintaining these hero images we foist on unsuspecting children. I would much rather that we had the old images of the not-so-perfect Benjamin Franklin or the balding Saint Paul or the portly Friar Tuck or whomever, than have Angelina Jolie presented as today’s perfect woman.

  16. Eileen: It’s a huge struggle with my kids in non-Waldorf schools and not homeschooling. I took my son out of the afternoon care at his private school, in large part because I was unhappy that they spent time each day watching TV or movies. He struggles to play with the kids in the neighborhood because a lot of the time he doesn’t know what they’re talking about! I got him a toy light saber, but I’m drawing the line at Pokemon cards 🙂

    Penny: Yes, I think many people just cannot get objective enough to see any alternatives to the mainstream. Or they’re not willing to accept that they might have made poor decisions!

    Mon: It’s funny how people almost assume that if someone is famous, they are automatically admirable. I’m not sure what is admirable about being born with a certain facial or body structure, for example. I can look at a movie star and admire her beauty, but that doesn’t mean she becomes a role model for me!

    Helen: Oh, you’ve brought up enough for a whole other post! But yes, it’s unrealistic to think someone like Angelina Jolie takes care of home and family by herself. She may be a wonderful wife and mother, but she’s got an entourage to take care of the daily stuff, no question. Feminism went too far, in my opinion, toward the “do/have it all” side. There’s a reason we have a traditional distribution of labor–it shouldn’t be mandated of course, but there’s wisdom in not expecting each person to do everything.

    Dawn: Did you ask her? (If you’ve blogged about it and I’m forgetting, please forgive me!)

    Nana: Yes, there’s a whole industry behind celebrities. I’ve found that since we stopped watching TV, my tolerance for all of it has decreased dramatically–and it’s much easier to see the truth of the consumerism and materialism behind it all. There’s a certain validity to the idea that the unusual is what is entertaining, and so watching “normal” people on TV wouldn’t be interesting, but that’s been taken to an extreme.

    Denise: I look at it as my job to “filter” the world for my kids until they’re old enough to do it for themselves. When they’re teens and are developing the ability to think critically, then I will feel more comfortable with them watching TV and movies. But I don’t want them to be complete social outcasts either. Finding that balance is hard!

    Lisa Anne: What you’re giving Amelia is the ability to see all of the choices, not just the ones given by the media. She may end up wanting physical beauty (and she already has that, but I mean the more artificial kind valued in our culture), but at least it will be a choice and not just a compulsion. But she’ll probably see the beauty in the strong women instead.

    Alida: We got a few small Lego sets . . . seems like we’re firmly in that part of the culture now 🙂

    RunninL8: I guess we’ve always had “stars” to look up to as teens, but were they always this bad? Going into rehab, getting pregnant, getting arrested . . . I don’t remember any of that happening to Shaun Cassidy or Molly Ringwald! (D’oh, I’m so old!)

    HMH: I agree with you on all counts. I try to talk a bit about advertising with my kids, but still they’re pretty young for that. And I can see how much more impressionable they are than their friends who watch lots of TV: things scare them more, they remember things very clearly, etc. All the more reason not to let them become inured to it! And what you said about needing to learn to relate to people is very, very true.

  17. Goodwitch: Sorry I missed you in all my blabbing on! Yes, I can blog right now because it is my solace and my “me” time. However I’ve been doing a lot more reading and commenting than writing, you’ll notice!

    Eve: That’s one reason I enjoy biographies so much — learning about the *real* person, even if they are a mighty national hero or a saint out of ancient history. And why I love fairy tales and hero legends — they provide such rich images of the “hero” or the “princess” archetypes that are freely developed in our mind’s eye. So I can talk to my kids about what makes a princess — nobility, grace, generosity, etc. — without the Disney Industrial Complex inserting their prepackaged imagery in there. Although, we did watch Disney’s Sleeping Beauty with the kids over the holiday weekend as a special treat (Shhh! Don’t tell the Waldorf police!), and part of me can’t wait to watch (and talk about) Star Wars with them.

  18. “Shaun Cassidy or Molly Ringwald! “Hahahashhaah!
    I LOVED him!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. Tammy

    Huh. I’m going to have to ask my girls today who their role models and heros are. Very interesting, and so true!

  20. Tammy

    I hope you don’t mind, I’m going to copy this post onto my own blog, and I’ll link you of course and give you credit. It’s such an interesting thought you have put out there. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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