Two closely related subjects I've frequently on written are the need for all of us to behave as role models, and the decline in civility in our public discourse. The two subjects might seem unrelated, but in reality I think it's pretty hard to keep the two seperate. After all, part of being a role model involves the way we believe in public. As Christ reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount, "by their fruits you will know them." (Matthew 7:20).
Fr. Tiffany spoke on this subject in the St. Olaf bulletin over the weekend, which I picked up online today. He makes the direct link between these "marketed heroes" and the often oafish behavior they demonstrate:
All of us need heroes and heroines to whom we can look and in whose company we can travel. Unfortunately, many of the men and women who come to us as "marketed models” for young people, as well as adults, need not be authentically moral and selfless. If they have a particular talent or skill or body profile, and as long as they can entertain us and distract us from our boredom, then they need not be honorable people as long as they give us what we pay for. In some instances we give places of dubious honor to those whose “glory” is to be especially claimed by being as crude, vulgar, outrageous and shameful in speech and behavior as they can possibly be. Kids’ bedrooms, college dorms, promotional fliers are plastered with “bigger than life” posters. Booze and sex sell and they are often linked to each other to amuse and sell product. Declaring one’s loyalty to a brand of beer (literally) spills over into caps and shirts and jackets that bear the name of a favorite beverage.
An unfortunate byproduct of this is the tendency to overlook the boorish behavior of those who agree with you, or to somehow otherwise excuse it. We give a free pass to a lot of politically incorrect speech simply because it fights a common enemy, political correctness (the "South Park conservatives," for example). You know - "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Maybe we ignore it, maybe we chuckle (somewhat uncomfortably, if you notice; perhaps we're hoping if we laugh about it enough it might actually become funny). In the same vein, we turn a blind eye to the "antics" of our favorite athletes (but only if they deliver on the field; winning gives birth to one happy family, but losing creates many orphans). Fact is, it's not only what we say or do, it's how we do it, because in the how we often reveal just who it is we are.
It continues to puzzle why otherwise sensible people fall into this trap. As Fr. Tiffany says,
Why would people choose to clothe themselves with the garments of “marketed heroes,” desiring to emulate them, be identified with them, and spend themselves and their resources chasing an identity that has nothing to do with concerns that really matter. What is wrong with the white garment with which they were clothed at their baptism giving them their greatest dignity, having been made a part of the new creation in the image of Jesus Christ.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating: we are all role models, and the way we behave in public does make a difference. As the old saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Great athletes often say that they play every game, even the most meaningless, as if someone in the stands might be seeing them for the very first time. We believe, or we want to believe, that our behavior primarily affects us; but in fact our behavior ripples out in concentric circles, covering a wide area of people and events. As we are all members of the Body of Christ, our words and deeds can, in mysterious ways, have an impact on the entire Church.
Now, speaking from personal experience, I can vouch to many occasions when I've made a bad first impression. Sometimes it was because of social ineptitude or ignorance, other times from haughty arrogance, and on occasion it was due to simple misunderstanding. I've been profoundly fortunate to have had a number of opportunities for a second chance; hopefully I've made good on most of them. Who knows how many times I never got the second chance?
The point is that we have to always keep this in mind. People hearing us, seeing us, reading us for the first time, are bound to draw certain conclusions based on the impression we make. What kind of impression do we want that to be? An arrogant, crude, vulgar loudmouth? A hypocritical, so-called Christian? A conceited know-it-all? We have certain obligations; we must make sure we live up to them. But we don't have to do it all by ourselves.
Fr. Tiffany's final words refer to the saints; they can apply equally to us all, for we all have the potential to become saints:
Saints provide us with a community of men and women who have been tested, proven, and awarded the crown of life. There is nothing “phony” about them; they
are not pretentious; they are not full of themselves; they are not for show. They are full of amazing grace; they are real; they are for God and for us; they are now eternally grateful. They have chosen to give themselves “to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, admirable, decent, virtuous, or worthy of praise.” (Phil. 4:8)
Some people may think that "being yourself, warts and all" is the anthesis of phoniness. But in truth it has as much to do with reality as South Park has to true conservatism, or Playboy to chastity. As I said in an earlier post, let us not cheapen God's gifts to us, or use them in ways other than in which they were intended. We can only be honest with ourselves and with others if we accept the garment given us by our Lord, if we live up to the ideals He preached, and if we become that which He created us to be.
Remember, by your acts they shall know you.