I thought I’d respond to Maggie’s (From Cave Walls) Throwback Thursday prompt this week, where she asks about mentors and role models.
I’ll start off by answering the question. I don’t really believe in role models.
Well, that’s not strictly true. I believe in role models for tiny aspects of our lives, so as a whole, there might be tens or even hundreds of different role models.
But in general, I believe we should set our own course in life.
For example, an influential guy in my early life was a politician called Tony Benn. If you’ve not heard of him, he was far left wing. If you know American politics, think Bernie Sanders, then move left a couple more steps.
Incidentally, he was truly left wing. He saw the USSR (and now Russia) for exactly what it was. Benn always argued that the USSR was flawed. The biggest nonsense ever was when they turned round and called themselves “socialists”. When all you do is replace one political elite with another, you haven’t really changed anything. And he’s been borne out. The Russia we see under Putin is exactly the same as the one we saw under the Tsars. A hundred years… and no further evolved.
That’s not to say that I swallowed everything he said, hook line and sinker. I was ambivalent on a lot of his economic beliefs, and I fundamentally disagree with him on certain aspects of how we are governed. But when he talked about social justice, he was spot on.
The other thing about Benn was that he was a prolific author. For me, in my early twenties, he wrote about a lot of issues I’d never even considered previously. So he was a superb role model, in terms of opening my eyes to new ideas. I was even lucky enough to meet him, once.
Benn was first elected just after the war, in the Fifties. He rose through the party ranks and actually held office in the Seventies. In fact, he only died in 2014, at the ripe old age of 88.
Think about that. He was booted out of office in 1979, he remained an MP until 2001, then went on to live more than a decade. He had a lot of time to think, and one of the things he considered was what is my role?
I mean, he’d been out of office for more than two decades by then, so in terms of bigtime politics, forget it. Especially when the prevailing winds of the time blew in a very different direction. But here was a man who was still in the public eye, he had to have some role, some purpose.
Benn concluded that his role, as he became older, was simply to encourage. And he did that, admirably. He encouraged me to become more aware of the world around me, at least.
So, as we all get older, what does everyone think their role is in the world?
Is it simply to continue consuming, until we peg out?
I’d go so far as to say that it’s a good role for us all. We can all encourage. Not just our kids and grandies – that’s a no-brainer. But, each other. We can all be role models.