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Teachers, Mentors and Role Models

February 14, 2010

Mount Rushmore

While at a Model UN Conference in the Fall of 2008, I had the opportunity to see then Senator Chuch Hagel at the Columbia Political Union during a break between our simulation committee sessions for a Development Executive Board. The Senator was using his position as a U.S. Senator to travel around the country to speak on the topic of his book “America: The Next Chapter”. He admitted that although he wanted us all to buy the book, he was going to let us in on a little secret which could help us model our lives into being “America’s Next Chapter”. Senator Hagel mentioned “his Mount Rushmore”, decidedly different from “The Mount Rushmore” as being a tool which he used to model his life into the person he was. He said that on his Mount Rushmore, he didn’t place the normal President’s that currently adorn the real face of the mount near Keystone, South Dakota. He decided to model his life after people that he loved and respected. I don’t want to deprive the good Senator of more book sales by telling you which people he admired. I’ll leave the story at that so that I can continue with my case for good Teachers, Mentors, and Role Models regardless of the profession we chose in life.

In our lives, we have the distinct privilege to share our lives, our planet, our country, our town, our home, or our school with other individuals who have unique gifts for us beyond any price. In our daily lives, we come across people who teach us lessons in life whether by being our mentors, our teachers or our role models. As a former classmate once said, “Some of my best teachers I have aren’t hired by this University. They are the students I go to class with.” (or something to that nature) I say that there are individuals in this world whose gift of being an example itself the testament to the lesson they teach. If by chance we are attracted to the example we want to emulate, there are different types of such examples of individuals which we can learn to interact with.

Teachers have the most important profession in our society. From the very first classes we enter in Kindergarten to the Professors in Post-Graduate studies, these individuals animate the words in books so that students can then carry on the legacy of a thought, a subject of thought, or the thought of a subject from mere words into the growing tree of known knowledge. It is true that there are numerous teachers for the same subjects that have been replicated through the same process of learning that students endure generation after generations. However if these teachers didn’t take on this mantle of responsibility to perpetuate these thoughts, the subjects wouldn’t be replicated in the minds of men and women for ages to come. Good teachers of communication can help us be better communicators by showing us how to best use our creative ability to deliver and spread a message. Good teachers of leadership are usually leaders themselves and teach their learned lessons and how they became teachers.

Though most people have teachers, less people have mentors. For the socio-economically affluent, mentors are built into the family dynamic as good mothers and fathers. Thus, the children of these families are better equipped to handle the world’s challenges because they have someone to look up to, someone to ask questions about life, and someone to rely on for support. For the socio-economically poor, the good examples of mother and father may not be present, and if present may not have the time to dedicate in full development of the children. Thus, the children of these families struggle in life. Programs like the Big Brothers Big Sister program have created so that poor children from single-family homes can have a better chance. I used the example of mother and father as mentor to show that our lives are constantly modeled consciously and unconsciously by others around us. Some of us walk through life without thinking too much of this fact, while others take an active stance on the subject and choose their mentors. Throughout history there are examples of mentors that have contributed to the success of their students as a force in society. Those who have had an education in the Classics know about  Socrates & Plato and subsequently Plato & Aristotle. Those who have an understanding of the New Testament of the Bible know of Jesus Christ & His Disciples. Mentors are not just teachers, they are like older brothers, fathers, older sisters, and mothers. They give to the person seeking, guidance. In this guidance, there is much wisdom. A mentor’s guidance consists not of the knowledge taught in books, nor in classes, but those lessons learned in the classroom of Life itself. If you want to learn how to be someone or to do something, finding a mentor is one of the best ways of doing it.

Role models have been present in our lives from the first time our cognitive abilities as children created in our minds the shapes and voices of those we called our family. Our very first words and actions were models of the behavior that we experienced as children in our families. As we grew older, we began to attach our proclivity to those outside of our families, possibly to the people we saw on television, the newspaper, or our local communities. As we went to school, we learned about historic figures, artists, scientists, philosophers, kings, presidents, and religious leaders. Those who had a heightened attention to sports, were drawn to sports legends. Others with an inclination towards writing were drawn to playwrights, and authors. Yet, as we still get older and escape academia, our lives are still under the pull of models of living, whether its regarding the amount of money or the material possessions we wish to hoard. To each and everyone of us there is a different understanding of the “successful”, the “famous”, or the “great”. What do we see in these people that we wish to emulate? It doesn’t require much thought and deduction to see that the satisfaction of attaining something that someone else has attained is easier and possible. By choosing good Role Models in life, it is easier to replicate the good effects on society or on the individual. Every President had a role model that was a President. Every Rock Star had a role model that was a Rock Star. Every Mother has a role model that was a Mother. Every Father has a role model that was a Father. Role Models are not difficult to find, because they are all around us. There are more than enough options available. Deciding between the different options is a difficulty, but not an impossibility.

Hagel’s Mount Rushmore makes it easier. If at first you can’t chose one, maybe you can chose a few. By putting a few people on your Mount Rushmore, it may become easier for you to see what type of life or career we want to create in our time on earth. It might be your Mother, your Grand Father, the current President, a dead Philosopher, or your Friend. In our walk through life, we are impacted and changed by the forces of nature and of society. By choosing our Teachers, Mentors, and Role Models we take control of a little part of our lives. We chose the direction in which we want to direct our life by choosing to be like someone we respect so that some day there might be someone else wishing to be like us. Or should we take the road less traveled, the one with a narrow gate? A path in Leadership is less traveled and narrow, but thankfully there are good examples to follow.

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