My last post briefly looked at how older people – I like the term ‘elders’ rather than the usual descriptor ‘the elderly – are not simply a passive risk group but should be viewed and treated as active agents and potential assets in Emergency Preparedness. I mentioned how their decades-long experiences can contribute to being able to find and build on optimism and today I’d like to expand on this by looking at the importance of role models in resilience. Traditionally, role models tend to be seen as older people one looks up (often relatives) to but of course this is only a limited view. Nowadays it is easier than ever to find positive role models of all ages and backgrounds across a many diverse areas.
Everybody needs resilient, positive role models – not just children
Last January when this blog started, I introduced you to Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith who ran one of the first longitudinal resilience studies (see the Resilience – Nature or Nurture post ). They reported what has been confirmed many times since:
resilient individuals have role models whose beliefs, attitudes and behaviours inspire them
Research in teens repeatedly shows that those with role models have a better attitude towards school, better grades and attendance, greater maturity and better mental health with less depression and anxiety (Southwick et al, 2006) . Surely it’s no stretch to claim the same is true for adults of all ages. From where I stand, I see it as only natural that we can all benefit from encouragement from mentors and role models whose behaviour – words and action – motivate and inspire us to continue to learn, adapt and grow. Where children initially learn right and wrong as a foundations of morality, as teens and adults we continue to hone our skills to control impulses, delay gratification and find as well as create healing for ourselves and others.
Your Role Models – who inspires you and why?
How about you? Where do you draw your role models from?
You’ll laugh when I tell you that, personally, I can think back to a long string of personal heroes beginning with – unsurprisingly for my era – Wonder Woman. Yes – ‘oh dear’ indeed! I am no closer to being like her now than back then nor would I ever want to be – and not simply because of body image and wardrobe issues.
However, Wonder Woman along with many of my real world heroes (i.e. in no particular order Henry Dunant, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, Shunmyo Masuno, May Sarton, Malala Yousafzai) continue to inspire me to connect, never lose interest, courage and the ability to question but also accept.
Role Models do not have to be older, wiser or perfect
Role models do not have to be perfect – actually quite the opposite holds, I believe. Everyone has their own unique strengths and weaknesses which, unlike flawless fiction super heroes, make them authentic and human and therefore much more valuable in that they are real and accessible. Have you heard of the Well Child Awards and the Pride of Britain Awards? Well, you probably have but for me, as a Swiss, this was certainly new. What a brilliant way to honour and highlight how everyday people do astonishing deeds to inspire us all, irrespective of age or background.
How role modelling works – more than just imitation
Imagination and imitation are powerful forms of learning and shape human behaviour. Throughout our lives we learn by imitating the patterns of thought and behaviour of those around us. Often we are completely unaware that we are doing such observational learning. It is not taught. Rather we simply pick it up merely by being exposed to others and the need to belong and fit in.
Matters are more complex, however, for example Bandura’s social learning theory (1977, 1986) holds that modelling involves more than simply mimicry, imitation or observational learning. He suggested that each person is able to integrate thoughts, values, behaviours and emotional reactions that resemble those of a role model but that it could be adapted to fit the particular personality and circumstances of the learner. Suppose, for example, that you know someone who always seems to handle complex and stressful situations with relative ease. You admire this resilient person and wonder how she or he does it. You intentionally begin to observe their behaviour over time and may notice patterns:
- actively reaching out to others for help, support and assistance
- adjusting personal pace to build in additional rest and recharge periods
- upping diet with extra nutrition and taking additional exercise
This observed pattern you can now turn into a rule or model that you can modify for yourself for use during a variety of stressful situations. Doing so and keeping sensitive to what works best for you, you will develop and enhance your own personal resilience.
What are the most effective ways of learning from Role Models?
Most people benefit from role models without being fully aware of the processes involved. You don’t need to make it into a science yourself but I believe that by taking a more active and conscious role will have benefits in that you learn quicker, can adapt and modify faster to what works best for you.
Like any new skill you start, begin by breaking it into smaller, more manageable chunks until you become better and more fluid at it:
- observe the role model behaviour in a variety of settings over time
- practise yourself in between observations for example by first imagining you possess a desired behaviour, attitude and personality style and then by role play (real life enactment is eventually required for successful imitation)
- get feedback from someone you trust and that has a good eye. Such a person can point out similarities and differences between your behaviour and the behaviour you are attempting to model and may provide suggestion
- patience! Don’t give up. Changing your behaviour to fall in line with what you consciously desire rather being driven on automatic takes perseverance
That it’s worth the effort is clear for you will gain immensely in realistic self-assurance and suffer considerably less from the inevitable anxieties that life throws us all.
Curiosity is key – acts of observing, listening, questioning, wondering and modelling. When you stay curious with an open mind and heart about your and other people’s worlds and our responses to shared experiences, then we can truly become role models for each another, building understanding and resilience for all of us.
Wishing you resilience building week full of illuminating observations.
thank you for sharing and helping raise awareness for Emergency Preparedness and Resilience!
- -Southwick, S.M., Morgan, C.A., Vythilingam, M. & Charney, D. S. (2006). Mentors enhance resilience in at-risk children and adolescents. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 26 (4), 577-584.
- Bandura, A. (1977) Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall
- Bandura, A. (1986) Social foundations of thought and action: a social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall
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