Guest Post: Oscar Pistorius Should Never Have Been A Role Model
My friend Heather Greenwood-Davis is passionate about people and how we treat them. Her trip around the world with her kids only made her more sensitive to those who don't have a voice. In the following guest post she asks parents to reconsider the idea of putting athletes and celebrities on pedestals without knowing who they truly are.
Guest Post: The Problem With A Pedestal
Recently I overheard a conversation about Oscar Pistorius. The athlete nicknamed "The Blade Runner" - in relation to the double leg prosthesis he wore during his quest for Olympic glory on behalf of South Africa - has been charged with premeditated murder in the death of his girlfriend. It’s a grisly tale.
The couple I overheard discussing this was clearly shocked, as I think most people were, to hear the news. But their response, which was also likely common to many, is demonstrative of the problem we have as a continent.
“I can’t believe he could do that!” said one. “He seemed like such a nice guy…”
Shaking his head, the other responded, “He was a role model!”
Actually he wasn’t and isn’t.
Statements are now coming to light suggesting Pistorius may have had some anger issues. Police are suggesting that there had been domestic violence calls to his home in the past and reports also suggest he has faced charges of assault once before.
A nice guy?
Probably not, but I don’t fault the couple entirely for their reaction. It is what happens when we as a society are determined to continue the “pedestal” way of thinking. Oscar Pistorius is a phenomenal athlete, so we make a hero out of him, tell our children he is a role model and expect him to fall in line.
Until Pistorius’s fall the photos we’ve seen of him in the media almost always show him smiling, standing with Nelson Mandela or racing for glory. With every picture he climbs a little further up the pedestal. And like all people we deem celebrities, we expect him to live up to the image we’ve seen and helped create.
In the days ahead, we will get a picture through the media of how “evil” Pistorius truly is. How he duped us all. The media will turn him into the other side of the celebrity construct: the Villain.
He’s human – with the potential to do great things and evil ones – and happens to have a talent (and incredible competitive drive). That definition is shared in varying degrees by all people in society including those in penitentiaries and those doing incredibly brave acts in our communities. Pistorius’s talents on the field don’t veto his actions off-field or vice versa. They are simply two parts of a man; the fact that he may have done a sickening act, doesn't change that.
When we fail to accept this, we are doing our children a disservice.
The blogosphere will no doubt be filled with articles this week of how to talk to your children about Oscar Pistorius. I think the problem really is how you spoke of him before.
Let’s stop suggesting to our children that sports figures, musicians or other superstars are people who should be admired for anything other than their talents. Let’s stop suggesting that people we don’t truly know and might never meet are worthy of emulation.
And let’s stop suggesting that their talents make them perfect human beings or “role models” that our children might want to copy.
Not Pistorius. Not Lance Armstrong. Not Tiger Woods. Not Michael Jackson. Not Chris Brown. Not Lindsay Lohan. Not Britney Spears. Not Nikki Minaj. Not any celebrity, sports figure or any other person for that matter. Point to good deeds instead of finding perfect people. Show your kid that people can do inspiring things instead of trying to prove the impossible - that people are perfect.
And then let’s remember that no one calls themselves a role model. While it’s true Pistorius might have aspired to be one or hoped to be one, the label only sticks when it’s thrust on you by someone else. And it only sticks when we as a community accept it.
Listen for signs of hero worship in your children’s conversations and talk them down. Celebrate the talents but remind them that those alone can’t define a human being. Leave the superheroes in the comicbooks.
Show your kids the pedestals for what they truly are - structures built for the very purpose of giving someone somewhere to fall from for the interest and amusement of the masses.
And then let’s remember that while we are watching them fall, titillated by the surrounding circus, those who are truly affected are in the shadows.
We should stop allowing ourselves to be part of the machination and frenzy that builds them. We should stop, if for no other reason than the message it sends our kids.
We can and should be disappointed by violence of one person against another. No matter how disgusting and morally reprehensible we might feel their actions are, or how disappointed we may feel; they owe us nothing more than you owe your neighbour, than one human being owes another. And suggesting to our children that they are “role models” owe us something more is dangerous and wrong.
Do you agree with Heather? Or do athletes and other celebrities have something special that our kids should look up to, and model themselves after?
For more of Heather Greenwood-Davis' thoughts on the big wide world check her out at globetrottingmama.com. (I should mention that she and her family were National Geographic's Travellers of the Year for 2012. So cool.)
Want more chaos? Last year, I was stunned when my daughter's report card seemed to be describing a totally different person.