Upgrading “Role Model”

The term role model is lacking.  It fails to convey its own potency… it sounds passive, belying its real nature. It fails to convey its scope… as if there is a limited number of things one could role model. It comes with a sense of burden: if you are a role model today but not tomorrow, then you may get accused of being hypocritical. It feels stuffy… are you eager and excited to be a role model?

Our attitudes and behaviors are not unlike a virus… they are infectious– and not just the desirable behaviors. When people around you clam up, you tend to clam up. When people around you are gregarious, you tend to do the same. When someone is vulnerable with you, you feel safe to open up too. When someone is argumentative with you, it is tough to not be argumentative back.

With this truism in mind, we can turn it in to a game: we become the change we want to see in others, and watch it spread.

To continue on the virus analogy, our undesirable behaviors are a dis-ease… they keep us from our natural state and separate us from others. Imagine that dis-ease forming a membrane around us. The solvent for that membrane is found in its opposite. That is why we feel ‘disarmed’ by the friendliness of others.

If our behaviors are infectious then we are carriers; infecting those around us, who may behave in kind. Armed with this knowledge we can make a difference in a situation where we would like to see someone else change their posture.

Here are some examples to try out:

Is someone being defensive? be vulnerable with them.
Is someone avoiding you? engage them.
Is someone pussy footing? be direct.

I’m not saying these approaches are easy, but I am saying that they are things you can do in a situation you may feel you have no control over.

I haven’t figured out a replacement for the term role model, but making a game of “viral behaviors” has advantages. It recognizes the power of even our smallest gestures. It says we are always “modelling” behaviors, even the bad ones, so its our choice in any moment what we want to model. As a game, it is playful, not stuffy. It acknowledges that the game doesn’t stop… when we remember it is a game we can choose to be the carrier; when we forget, we are easily infected. It doesn’t label us as a hypocrite when we don’t take on the behaviors we want to see in others, rather it shows that we let ourselves be infected by someone else; once we recognize that we have the choice to recommit to the game or be defeated by it.

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