Monday, January 29, 2007

Looking for a few good role models

A recent discussion on Lookjed focused on the need – or appropriateness – of teaching our children to turn to Rabbinic leaders on issues of personal choice. The discussion of Da'as Torah – whether to view Rabbinic Sages (or specific ones, at any rate) as having unique insight to which a committed Jew is obligated to hearken – has a long history, much of which is readily available on-line (as Jonathan Marvin pointed out). In many ways it is a discussion that already has had its lines drawn.

My concern is related, but a different one. I believe that we can all agree that students need role models, people who they can look to as inspiring personalities to emulate. Ideally, they should find them at first in their homes and local communities.

Given the role of the media in contemporary society, role models often are figures in the world of sports and entertainment. This brings with it certain challenges. While there is great value in bringing happiness to people, I am not certain that today's entertainment world is an embodiment of true joy, or if it offers an ephemeral "high" that passes for happiness today.

As our children grow and become more aware of the world around them, such models of leadership should be people who have made their mark on the larger community. Depending on a child's interest, it probably makes sense for us to direct our children's attention to a scientist whose work has made people live longer or better, a developer whose buildings house thousands or a visionary whose ideas have made the world a better place.

My greatest concern relates to leadership figures who are truly in a position that calls for role-modeling. Someone who enters the public arena in a position of leadership – say, the President, Prime Minister, Chief Rabbi, Justice Minister, etc. – is, by definition, someone who we should be able to point to as a model for our students and children. If we would like to encourage them to take initiative and responsibility as adults, it just seems logical that such figures should be people who inspire respect. Unfortunately, such is not the case today – and while I am writing from the perspective of someone who lives in Israel, I believe that recent events concerning public officials in Israel are covered by the media around the world, and are of concern to everyone who feels connected to the Jewish State.

How are we to inspire our children to want to lead and impact on their community, when it appears that the people who fill so many of those types of positions today are the living antithesis of the values and aspirations that we hold out for our children?

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure I see the problem here Of course it is a big problem that there are so many poor role models in public leadership, but it just takes a handful to be able to use as role models. Surely there are some such people out there?
    Moreover, when we set up role models, we should also prepare our children/students for disappointment. It does happen that people who we sincerely believe to be role models can end up disappointing us - after all, they are human too. What we really need to teach is ideals, and use role models as a tool for that. One probem with today's gedolim-worship is that when the gadol in question takes a position that the worshipper fundamentally disagrees with, he has a cognitive dissonance problem.