When we’re the little kids, we want to be big kids. Often we succeed. We use the big kids as role models.
But the use of role models doesn’t stop in late childhood, it goes on throughout many a life.
Mental fitness guru and fire walker Tony Robbins has made a name for himself and a ton of money showing failures, real and imagined how to “model” themselves after successful people.
And if you pick the right role model, you can do pretty well, especially if you add your own strengths to the role you’re modeling.
But just as role models are not limited to children, they are not limited to individuals. And when they become institutional, they can lead to trouble.
You know the bank down the corner with the huge bank in the big city as its role model? As the little guy down the block grows, it’s more likely to have the big guy’s flaws than its virtues.
Stone cold lending policies, low interest returns and sometimes even crooks in high places are not the things you want to imitate. But they’re much easier to copy than whatever virtues made the big guys big.
If I foreclose on enough houses, I’m going to be the next Bank of America.
And there are hospitals. You can have all the grand balls and other charity events as the big guns. You can get rich people to donate plenty and put their names on buildings. You can hire the best and the brightest doctors. You can publish the slickest brochures.
But often a regional hospital will compare with the big boys only on infection rates and malpractice suits.
Bigger isn’t always better. It’s only better when you outstrip the competition on good stuff.
Then, there are reverse role models. A small college is getting better results than a big one, and the big one notices and adopts some of the trappings of the small one.
Smaller classes, unusual subjects, teachers who actually teach instead of racing to “publish or perish,” admissions based on rationality rather than test scores… that kind of thing.
This doesn’t work well most of the time because a bigger thing can’t let go of its bigness long enough to figure out why the smaller one succeeds.
Sometimes you need better role models. Sometimes you need greater familiarity with what makes a good or great role model good or great.
Sometimes you need no role model at all.
--How do you know you’re one of the “big kids,” or even an adult? Here’s one way: You pass by the toy store and there’s nothing in it you want. But if there were, you could buy it without asking anyone’s permission.
--President Obama wants to end all that NSA spying on Americans, a pretty good idea whose time has come. But there’s a big question mark hanging over this proposal… how will we know? And an even bigger question is how congress will justify having to give the president his way on an issue as important as this… or any issue, for that matter.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
© WJR 2014