Why a Role-Model Matters – Letter 20



In this publication I translate the Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English. In Letter 20, he discusses how why having a role-model is important. Titles are granted, but it’s your behaviour that wins respect.

Role Model
Your deeds are far more important than your words and your words and deeds must be consistent.

What is a role-model?

A role-model is a person whose behaviour, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people. Individuals compare themselves with reference groups of people who occupy the social role to which the individual aspires., an example of which is the way young fans may idolize and imitate professional athletes or entertainment artists.

Don’t get grumpy by, what in the grand scheme of things, are trivialities. If you do, then this is just a reflection of the mood, you’re in. Some of the time minor things will bother you, other times they won’t. When you don’t get flustered, think about why that is? I’m guessing it’s because you’re focused on the bigger picture.

Picture your ideal role-model. How would they react to these day-to-day frustrations? Would they set-them in the context of their lives as whole? And this is easily done if you have a clear and purpose in life. Overcoming the occasional barrier is normal, and something we should accept this.

Let your actions speak louder than words when you are on your journey to becoming the best possible person you can be.

Role-model values

To find your purpose in life, determine your values. What are the value of your role-model? When you act and live in accordance with these then your happiness will improve. Your values should be congruent with one another, they shouldn’t oppose each other. If they do, then you’ll subject yourself to a degree of cognitive dissonance. Of course, there may be slight changes to your values over time. If you’ve devoted enough effort to developing them in the first place, then there shouldn’t be many major deviations.

Now, I’m not saying living in complete harmony with your stated values will be easy, few people can do this. Nor am I saying that you must have all the same values as your role-model. But what is important is that you have a clear direction then you’ll know when you’ve deviated from this path. It’s a little like reading a map. You’ll have a destination, and you’ll know the route you need to take.

On occasion you’ll need to look at the map to see if you’re off course. If you are then you’ll need to take action to get yourself back on course, heading in the right direction. Your original route isn’t relevant anymore? Therefore, you’ll need time to reflect.

So, choose yourself a Cato–or, if Cato seems too severe for you, a Laelius, a man whose character is not quite so strict. Choose someone whose way of life as well as words, and whose very face as mirroring the character that lies behind it, have won your approval. Be always pointing him out to yourself either as your guardian or as your model. There is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against you won’t make crooked straight.

Epistles 11.10

Being a role model is equal parts being who you actually are and what people hope you will be. Meryl Streep

Model the way

You must model the way; as your role-model does. Titles are granted, but it’s your behaviour that wins respect. Your deeds are far more important than your words and your words and deeds must be consistent.

We need to set our affections on some good man and keep him constantly before our eyes, so that we may live as if he were watching us and do everything as if he saw what we were doing.’ This, my dear Lucilius, is Epicurus’ advice, and in giving it he has given us a guardian and a moral tutor – and not without reason, either: misdeeds are greatly diminished if a witness is always standing near intending doers.

The personality should be provided with someone it can revere, someone whose influence can make even its private, inner life more pure. Happy the man who improves other people not merely when he is in their presence but even when he is in their thoughts! And happy, too, is the person who can so revere another as to adjust and shape his own personality in the light of recollections, even, of that other. (Letters, 11)

Look around at what you have, or what is in the world already. Be content with this. This is what is means to be rich. In fact, not having a lot of money means that the people who rely on you, must learn to rely on themselves. And finally, remember what I’ve said about preparation: look towards your role-model, practice hardship to prepare yourself in case it happens to you.

Take care.

Photo by Carine L. on Unsplash

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