It’s well known that role models are important for inspiring and giving direction. I’ve also found that knowing who someone’s role model is helps me have a better idea of who that person really is beyond his or her social face; you can fake being nice, but if your role model is Donald Trump, I’m going to question how nice you really are. I recently talked with a guy interested in dating my sister, and to know if he was worth my sister’s time I simply asked: “Who are your role models?” He could’ve said his dad because his dad was a great provider. He could’ve said his coach growing up because his coach was really caring. He could’ve said Tom Hanks because who doesn’t love Tom Hanks? Instead, he went with: “I don’t need or want role models. I’m my own person.” Wow. I didn’t know how to respond to this because he somehow thinks he’s special for not having a role model when, in reality, it makes him an idiot. Who doesn’t have a role model unless you think you’re superior to everyone else? Unless you’re Jesus there’s always someone who is better than you. Does he think he’s Jesus? If he does, at least he’d be delusional and his answer would be more understandable: (delusional person) “Orange is the answer.” (person nearby) “Um, no one asked you a question.” (delusional person) “You’re right. The answer is bubbles.”
Now that I’ve vented about this guy (it’s good to get out your frustrations), I’ve found what can be even more powerful than a role model is an anti-role model, which is someone who is the opposite of what you want to be. (I’m aware that “anti” can sound like I’m against role models like the guy I made fun of, but it can also mean the opposite, which is how I’m using it here). As an example of an anti-role model, my grandpa was an alcoholic, so my dad never had a drink. Since I’m a lot like my dad who is a lot like his dad, I have also never had alcohol, which means my grandpa was an anti-role model for my dad who, in turn, became my role model. This is the ideal set up for a family because we’re supposed to get better with each generation.
The best anti role model I’ve ever had was the youth pastor I volunteered under. I started volunteering in the group with my girlfriend at the time when I was 21. After a few months where I ran events and led talks, the youth pastor was hired and I switched to working under him for close to five years until one day when he essentially fired me from my volunteer position. You’re probably thinking I must have been pretty darn terrible to be so bad that my free help was worse than no help at all. That would make sense accept later that year, after I was kicked out, he published in the church’s annual report that he had developed my abilities so well (aka bragging) that I was running events and leading talks for him. If you’re wondering, but Chad you claimed that you ran events and did talks before he was hired? You’d be correct. But who’d remember that? Besides, the youth pastor told me I couldn’t say anything about being kicked out to anyone, which I obeyed… not sure why. The youth pastor had to keep this secret in order to protect himself because I was a golden child at the church, which is the pay off of being a serious suck up my whole life and, as a child, winning most of the Bible verse memory contests; yeah, I was as cool as a kid as that sounds. If you’re thinking, but if the youth pastor was bragging about the work you did he must have taught you things? You’d again be correct if by teach you mean he taught me what not to do. He didn’t even give feedback after the events and talks, but he was my anti-role model for a reason, and he taught me a lot of what not to do.
So can you guess why he kicked me out? The two main guesses I’ve concluded are he was either envious that I was really popular with the kids in the youth group or for five years he quietly developed and harboured resentment towards me until one day he snapped. Either way, it suggests he was an incredibly broken man, and the best evidence for this is when he told me I wasn’t allowed at youth, he added that I needed to get a mentor because I was so screwed up. Um, aren’t you a youth pastor? That’s your job, and you’ve had five years to help me, so if you think I’m so terrible that’s kind of on you. The worst part for me was I didn’t even get to say goodbye to anyone; I was so ashamed I left the church. It was pretty scaring, especially later that year when I became a youth pastor and found out that he reached out to the pastor at this new church and told him not to hire me. He was something special. He’s a major reason I’ve done my best to never step foot in my childhood church ever again, you know, the thing every church should have of its members.
Besides this experience inspiring me to develop my therapy material on forgiveness, I’m very grateful for what he taught me NOT to do. The best example of this is as a youth pastor I had a great little youth group with some great leaders, but one guy was almost too great. I remember driving home one night feeling frustrated because I was supposed to be the cool guy when this one leader I had, Joe, was waaayyyy cooler. He was the best at everything; he was super smart; he had a beautiful wife, and he had a great job that paid a lot of money. He was so cool he didn’t need to wear deodorant because he didn’t have BO. For a brief moment (like 3 seconds brief) I wanted to hate him until my former youth pastor flashed in my mind. It was like being punched in the gut. I was becoming the very person I was still recovering from. I needed to remember my anti-role model and value this person who everyone else loved. I was now the youth pastor. I had to be less fun and more about being the organizer, encourager, and disciplinarian. I wasn’t able to be carefree like I was as a volunteer. I needed someone else to be that fun person and Joe was way better at that than I ever was. From that moment on I tried to use and appreciate Joe as best I could, and he was amazing. Looking back, I could’ve been better at developing his skills, but I was new to my position and figuring out who I was in this role while struggling with underlying undiagnosed depression (the youth pastor situation added to this). I clearly didn’t have a chance at being perfect, but I had my anti-role model inspiring me to be better than what my dark side wanted. In the end, Joe was only able to help for a couple years before he moved to a new city, but he was one of the greatest blessings I experienced in my eight years in leadership. The group wouldn’t have grown the way it had without him. He was the perfect person at the perfect time; he was a true blessing from God, and if it wasn’t for my anti-role model, I may have done something really stupid, you know, like “fire” a great volunteer like my youth pastor did. Fun fact, when I saw the youth pastor four years later I was in a great spot and was friendly to him while he just shrank away. It was a great reward to me for moving on and working through forgiving while he clearly hadn’t.
Bonus Tip: Seeing someone as an anti-role model can help make stupid people more acceptable and not as damaging because they can now be seen as a great teaching tool for what not to be.
This week may you recognise your anti-role models and may they inspire you to be better.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people