Influences can be both good and bad, so I guess the question is how do you avoid the bad ones and emulate the good ones? I wish there were a simple answer. I think it stems in part from perception. How and when do you perceive which influence is good and which might be bad? Certainly, it can be said we learn from experience and sometimes come to this realization too late. But nonetheless, let’s see if we can break it down a bit.
When I was growing up my parents were very concerned about the people with whom I associated. They were mostly kids from the neighborhood, and later branched out a bit more as I grew up and went to school. Luckily, the majority of the people I hung out with were pretty decent people. Of course, there were a few who initially seemed all right, and later proved to be undesirable. One guy, for instance, tried to get me to assist him in stealing from a local store. “They’ll never miss it,” he said. He was very popular and widely regarded as the leader of the “cool clique” at school. I guess he thought he could use his popularity and image to influence me so I would do his dirty work for him. Luckily, my parents had instilled in me a sense of judgment so that I declined and thereafter avoided the guy like the plague. I don’t know what eventually happened to him, but I don’t imagine it was good. Looking back, I realize he was not a very good role model.
People need to choose their heroes carefully, especially in today’s era of instance communication and total news dissemination. Undue attention is given to celebrities in this regard, and our youth seems to be unduly influenced by them. This is truly unfortunate. I was very dismayed to hear Jay Zee’s casual dismissal of his youthful drug dealing. He said he sold crack cocaine because he wanted, among other things, “to buy some clothes.” This is setting a very poor example for many young people who look up to him. At a time when we need good role models, we seem to have a shortage of them. From Kanye West uttering a profane insult about the President of the United States during a London concert, to Miley Cyrus’s spaced out justification of her vulgar dancing at the music awards show, it seems the current crop of celebrities have a lot of influence but not much discretion. Remember Charles Barkley’s famous line, “I am not a role model?” I give him credit for at least realizing that his actions or mistakes might influence a generation of young men in a negative fashion.
I grew up in another era, when the misconduct of celebrities was not instantly broadcast over the Internet or immediately posted in the tabloids. The salacious details of president’s peccadilloes or the gender preference of movie stars was something that influence kept out of the public eye. Of course, this influence came at a price. When a reporter collected irrefutable evidence that a young, male movie star on the rise had a preference for young men, the studio immediately moved in and killed the story, paying off the tabloid with money and giving them “the dirty goods” on another star of lesser box office potential. But today the pendulum seems to have swung in the opposite direction. It’s like any press is good press, and the worse it is, the better. With paparazzi following celebrities around day and night, shooting pictures that will be almost immediately broadcast throughout the world, it’s pretty easy to see how a lot of dirty laundry inadvertently gets hung on the clothesline. Still, the celebrities hardly take measures to avoid it, and are seldom held accountable for their stupidity.
This craving for attention and notoriety is not just limited to the rich and famous. With the social media available today, people have plenty of opportunity to do it to themselves, sending out pictures they later wish they’d never taken, or spouting off with some idiotic rant on Facebook that makes them sound ridiculous. The bad and sometimes tragic thing about this new wave of instantaneous transmission is it’s way too easy to make a fool of yourself, and it’s forever posted in cyberspace for all eternity as a constant reminder. I guess the old adage, slightly adjusted, might be true here: Post in haste, regret in leisure.
So it comes back to sorting through those prevailing influences and making wise decisions on which ones to accept and which ones to ignore. Think it through and choose your influences wisely. You’ll be sorry if you don’t.