Setting the Example or Casting the First Stone

Why do people do the things they do? If you ask any number of people on the street that question, you’re likely to get any number of answers. Sociologists and psychologists will babble about the id or the ego or the social construct that is society, but it all really boils down to human nature. We are wired with certain impulses that drive our behavior. These drives have been mapped out long ago by several experts, and while they are theories, they have been corroborated many times over with empirical data. Hunger, fear, thirst, and anxiety are among many conditions that prompt human beings to do certain things. Our society creates many other conditions that trigger similar responses. The trick of the matter is not that we do things, or really not even why we do them. It is why we act surprised when others do them.

Mankind has long held aloft those who are in leadership roles or those who are set apart from the rest of society for intellect, ability or even celebrity. We expect better of them than we do of ourselves. If a neighbor cheats on his taxes, we don’t really care. Oh, we may look down on them for not living up to their responsibilities, but that is about the worst that would happen. But if someone who has been elevated in society does the same, that person is subjected to intense scrutiny and ridicule.

Think about what it means to be famous and be human. Scandal! Joe the plumber would simply enjoy a beer at the bar while regaling his buddies about how he was caught cheating on his wife. Meanwhile, Tiger Woods is placed under the microscope and every aspect of his life is dissected in the media while society adopts a “holier-than-thou” attitude about how bad of a person he is. Bill Clinton suffered the same experience with his adultery scandal, and society even called for his resignation for it. We cannot abide our leaders acting the same way that we do. They’re our leaders. They have to be better than us.

I’m not saying everybody cheats. I’m not saying everyone is an adulterer. Everyone does, however, experience the same temptations and since we are not perfect beings, we sometimes give into our weaker nature and submit to our impulses. It is not always right, or good, but it is human. Can we expect anyone, be it a politician, a sports figure, a celebrity or even a next-door neighbor to behave better than we do at our worst?

We all make bad decisions. We all suffer from them when we do. We need to remember that and stop casting stones when those we admire do the same. Remember, they are human too, and while it is easy to sit back in the comfort of our homes and feel superior that we have not been caught cheating in something, that the shoe could just as easily fit the other foot. One day, one bad decision later, and we are the ones getting caught with our hands in the proverbial cookie jar. If we were famous, we would—just as Tiger said last week—as for our privacy to be respected while we deal with the issue. And—if we were famous—it wouldn’t happen.

A role model is someone who has characteristics that we aspire to achieve. If we play football, then Tony Romo or Vince Young may seem a likely role model. If we play golf, then Tiger Woods seems the perfect role model. If we want to be president, then the President would seem to be a logical choice for role model (although I don’t think he is). But these people are also human, and while they have achieved great success in their fields, they still have lives outside of that area where mistakes can be made. If you can separate the person from the activity—pattern only Tiger’s golf game but not his personal life—then you may have something. Only one role model has ever existed that no one can cast aspersions on, and for some reason few young people would pick him for a role model today. Of course, somebody somewhere offered the biggest help in this with the WWJD campaign. If more people asked that question, there would be fewer scandals.

All we can hope for is the strength of character to do the right thing in all things, pray for guidance from God and follow the examples of our role models—as long as those role models are not Tiger Woods or Bill Clinton or Dave Letterman or Britney Spears or any other celebrity. If you are going to pick a contemporary role model, make sure your role models are people of good character, but remember that they are human.

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