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?
TV and film celebrities.
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.