Over the last few years, on both sides of the aisle, it has become more and more difficult to tell who our national leaders are. As a kid, I looked up to national figures in politics, journalism, sports and a number of other industries. While it wasn’t cut and dry, we usually could tell who deserved our respect and our admiration.
We knew who got in trouble for being casual with the truth, or less than steadfast in their morals. None were perfect, but many worked hard to be good people — kind, fair, rational, open-minded and honest.
These days, it’s harder and harder to look up to figures on the national stage. Some have become too political — if you agree with them you may become a black sheep among your friends and family. Some have become too controversial — again, creating uncomfortable dinner conversations.
Others, still, hold a title that has typically commanded respect, but their actions suggest otherwise.
More and more, I find it easier to look at those closest to me for inspiration.
That’s hard to do as a kid. Those closest to you are your parents (who in your mind are never right). They are your teachers (even harder to believe, sometimes). They are your neighbors (sometimes grumpily asking you to keep the noise down). They are coaches (making you run sprints). They are all authority figures teaching and telling you how to live a good life. Who wants that as a kid?
Now, as an adult, the same people I found rather ordinary (and sometimes frustrating) as a kid, I find extraordinary. They are not the exact same people. I don’t keep in touch with many teachers or neighbors from when I was growing up in Ohio.
But the teachers, neighbors, colleagues, coaches and parents I know now are much easier to look up to than anyone on a national stage. Those closest to us are often flawed, too, but we trust their intentions. We know they mean well. We know they are trying to do the right thing.
Now those are folks I can look up to.
Each and every day I can look around me — at the people I work with and interact with regularly — and find a handful (or two) worthy of respect and admiration. They strive to give back and put others’ interests before their own. They strive to be kind; foul words and mean-spirited debate don’t come from their mouths. They are honest, never bending the truth to get what they want.
I was asked the other day, as an adult, who children have to look up to these days. I look around me and see plenty of options. Those options are just much closer to home than perhaps we’re used to looking.