Should we have a role model?

Published: July 3, 2014

Is it not dangerous in the current times of social and religious intolerance to keep a role model? PHOTO: FILE

Hussain Haqqani had just finished his talk at the University of Boston auditorium and was surrounded by a horde of star-struck students. He was somewhat of a celebrity professor there, famed for his eloquence and sound argumentation, and was sorely missed after having gone on a sabbatical, of unspecified duration, due to his new duties as the ambassador of Pakistan in DC. With a train of excited students behind him, he announced that they shall all have dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Seated in front of him at the end of a long rectangular table, I was among the three other Pakistani students who were part of the largely American contingent. The conversation naturally started from Pakistan kay halaat and shifted to the merits of democracy to the role of the youth in shaping the country’s future.

“Who is your role model?” he asked.

All three of us fell silent, struggling to come up with a name. The truth was, we didn’t have one. We never thought we should have one. The idea of looking up to a person and placing him on a pedestal, thinking of him as unerring and worthy of your unflinching support and admiration was so outdated. The mention of any name would sound pretentious anyway.

But here was a man who had probably grown up hearing stories of Che Guevara and witnessed the red tide sweeping over the conscience of the world. Referring to our disinterest in harbouring a role model and the consequently low youth activism, he said,

“That is the problem.”

It was this conversation that still leaves me wondering if we really are at a loss for not holding anyone particular in high esteem. Are we that jaded with life, and the world in general, that we do not seek inspiration from others? Is there a paucity of individuals who qualify as role models? Or is it a more mature outlook to life that sees public figures or those close to us as humans with human fallibilities.

Whatever the case may be, there have been instances in the past where people have subscribed to the ideas propagated by negative individuals that have driven the world to death and destruction, just like there are positive examples of role models who have convinced people to do good. Taking inspiration from someone is an entirely different matter: you appreciate someone’s quality and may try to emulate it. But keeping a role model suggests you have taken the person as a model of excellence. In Pakistan particularly, role models somehow assume a ‘demi-god’ identity, glorified and considered above all criticism and fault. They tend to unquestionably take over our imagination and their inspirational qualities shroud whatever weaknesses they have.

Is it not dangerous in the current times of social and religious intolerance to keep a role model? After all, shouldn’t we pave our own independent paths, free of mental bondage to someone?

Mifrah Haq

Mifrah Haq

Sub-editor at the The Express Tribune Magazine, Mifrah is a Boston University Alumnus, having graduated in International Relations and International Communication.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • All Good
  • نائلہ

    I don’t understand why a person has to be famous for something to be someone you look up to. My role model is my mother <3. Recommend

  • Mifrah Khan

    I’m glad I found an article related to one of the biggest questions I have on my mind today. Being a 16 year old teenager isn’t the easiest things in the world, with everyone telling you to ‘always be yourself’. I’ve often been left speechless as well, whenever someone asks me who my role model is. How are you supposed to “be yourself” if you’re also supposed to be following other people as an example? I’m not saying one can’t learn certain things like behaviour, etiquette etc. by observation, but should I follow every single action or command I see in my so called “role model”? When asked the big question, intuition would tell me to focus on my parents and then on one of the best men to walk on this earth: Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H), and I’m left wordless again. Every Islamic book has the saying “We should look up to Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) and make him our role model”. That being said, he was a human and as the trite expression goes, nobody’s perfect. So what is a role model? Is he/she not a person who commits errors and is it not human to err?
    You mentioned that we are living in times of religious and social intolerance, but that should not stop one from having a role model. No one person is my role model because the person I am today is a mixture of a multitude people I’ve come across in life. Perhaps changing the definition of a role model from “a person looked up to by others” to “a person looked up to by others and accepted for who he or she is” would find ourselves in a different place. It really all depends on perspective.Recommend

  • Mehdi


    You have/had a role model in Pakistan. He is your sole Nobel prize winner scientist Dr Abdus Salam. Youngsters can emulate his scientific feat to take this country out of this abyss of darkness to a progressive tolerant and pluralistic society.Recommend

  • Mehdi

    Mine was Dr. Richard Feynman. He inspired me to undertake physics for higher studies.Recommend

  • Muhammed Usama Aziz

    We have a role model i.e.Holy Prophet (S.A.W.W).Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    When I was growing up , I never had one. Well truth be told , I had several ( or so I thought ) but later I realised that none are worth my attention ,leave alone worship. A bit late . in my late twenties , I discovered that there is no need for a role model as such . If you dont / cant find one around you, become one yourself .Recommend

  • Ahsan Raza

    Totally agree with you @author..
    Having a role model is lazy, to not to give it a thought to choose your own path in life.Recommend

  • Baba Ji

    I am my role model …Recommend

  • ullo bata

    Air blew out of this (another senseless) blog at the very beginning of it….Hussain Haqqani…look who has been quoted here….LOL

    I wonder who must be the Role Model of Hussain? any guess?Recommend

  • donga bonga

    My kid’s role model is…Mayo garlic role from hot n spicy..Recommend

  • knowTheEnemy

    How are you supposed to “be yourself” if you’re also supposed to be following other people as an example?

    When people think of some ‘role-model’, they think they have to imitate or emulate or ‘follow’ them, but such understanding is wrong. Besides watching the behaviour and etiquette of our potential role-models, we are especially supposed to identify those *qualities* that made them who they are (or were), including their outlook towards life and towards everything else. It is those qualities and outlooks that we should imbibe into ourselves! And THAT is how we can “be ourselves” and still have role-models (note plural) in our lives.Recommend

  • Jehanzeb Mahar

    Superb, apart from the first sentence of last paragraph, which was bit of an exaggeration. Keep writing Recommend