By WILLIAM HODGES
I was watching a 2-year-old child at play and noticed that he had put a pencil in his mouth. That in itself was not a strange sight; kids that age stick everything in their mouths. What was different was that the child was imitating the mother smoking a cigarette. Each time she put the cigarette in her mouth and blew smoke, he would put the pencil in his and pretend to blow smoke.
When I called his mother’s attention to what he was doing, she thought it was cute. She went on to say that when he got older, she would warn him about the dangers of smoking. We all know that by then it could be too late. She is the child’s hero and he is much more likely to do as she does rather than what she says.
Children are not the only ones who play follow the leader. Niccolò Machiavelli, Italian philosopher and statesman said, “Men nearly always follow the tracks made by others and proceed in their affairs by imitation, even though they cannot entirely keep to the tracks of others or emulate the prowess of their models. So a prudent man should always follow in the footsteps of great men and imitate those who have been outstanding. If his own prowess fails to compare with theirs, at least it has an air of greatness about it. He should behave like those archers who, if they are skillful, when the target seems too distant, know the capabilities of their bow and aim a good deal higher than their objective — not in order to shoot so high but so that by aiming high they can reach the target.”
How high are you reaching? Are the people you are emulating worthy role models? Just because someone is famous does not make them so. Neither does the fact they are virtually unknown make them less worthy to play the part.
Speaking of playing the part, one of my heroes was John Wayne. Reason tells me that he was just playing a role and in real life may not have been the man I admired on the screen. But that’s okay. The writers created a man worth emulating, and as Salman Rushdie said, “Sometimes legends make reality, and become more useful than the facts.” I guess, in the light of history and the revisionist press, all my heroes had some flaws.
I admire the way Winston Churchill was able to lead his country through its darkest hour, but who today would follow a politician who would say, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat”? I also understand he drank a bit too much.
They tell me that some of my other heroes also had clay feet. John Kennedy, one of the youngest presidents in our country’s history, helped me to see that youth had a place in our government. That lesson is not lost or devalued because—according to the press—he brought women through the back gate of the White House late at night.
Martin Luther King, Jr. stirred my blood with passion and led the human rights revolution in this country. Should all of the good he did be washed away because he is said to have plagiarized part of his doctoral thesis? I think not.
These famous men aside, most of my heroes are just common men and women. I try to copy their good points and overlook the areas in which they fall short. If the truth be known, even their frailties teach me lessons. Having heroes also keeps me young. Charles Cooley wrote “…hero-worship, more than anything else, perhaps, gives one the sense of youth. To admire, to expand one’s self, to forget the rut, to have a sense of newness and life and hope, is to feel young at any time of life.”
William Hodges is a nationally recognized speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. He also hosts an interview-format television program, Spotlight on Government, on the Tampa Bay Community Network, that airs Mondays at 8 p.m. (Spectrum channel 639, Verizon channel 30) and Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. (Spectrum channel 638, Verizon channel 36). The shows can also be viewed at hodgesvideos.com. Phone: 813-641-0816. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: billhodges.com.