I’m a believer in having role models (and anti-role models). One of the great things about sharing the world with billions of other people is that you get insights into where you might end up depending on the paths you take. I like to watch people who are twenty or thirty years older than I am, to look at the ones who are happy and the ones who are bitter and ask, “How did you get there?” And patterns start to emerge.
I see life as extending along four axes — “I” (my relationship with myself), “IT” (my relationship with things and ideas), “YOU” (my relationship with other individuals), and “US” (my relationship with groups of people). When I think of the people who’ve been my greatest role models, they tend to be the ones who have developed character along all four of those axes. The combination of curiosity, gratitude, confidence, and friendly conversationability is just beautiful.
“Nexus of harmony” is my word for them. They’re the ones whose mere presence makes things go better. You like to have them involved in your projects at school, work, and church. Somehow, just by being part of the team they ensure that the project will get done, and that everyone will have a good time doing it. But they’re about more than just getting things done effectively. At an individual level, these are good people. You feel comfortable with them. They are interested in the things you have to say, and will talk with you in a way that’s engaging and knowledgeable without being intimidating.
I envision the “straight and narrow path” as running between two extremes — the extreme of unbridled passion on the left, and the extreme of Pharisaic self-righteousness on the right. I’ve spent (and continue to spend) a lot of time so worried about deviating from the path to the left that I’ve generally stayed off to the right. But the path doesn’t run to the right, it goes just in the middle, where it can touch lives on both sides. The people who try to walk there are going to deviate on both sides, but at least they spend some of their time on the path. That’s what I learned from the nexuses of harmony that I’ve met, and I attribute my own changes in perspective — politically, socially, spiritually — to their examples.
I was lucky. These are the kind of people that served as zone leaders and APs in my mission. I hear some people complain about how the missionaries they knew were gunning for positions. That wasn’t an overriding dynamic in my mission. Most of our leaders were genuine, kind, humble, smart, and fun. (I do wonder about that — the proportion of amazing people there was remarkably high. Is the 19-to-21-year-old range of life just the high water mark where the fading idealism of youth combines with the newly developed vision of maturity?)
So what patterns have you seen in your own role models? When you look not at who inspires you, but rather why they inspire you, what do you see?