Why You Shouldn’t Measure By Negative Role Models

Do you have someone you look to and say "I don't want to be like that?"

If you do that, and my guess is most people do, you're in danger of trapping yourself.

Negative Role Models, as I call them, are insidious traps – and easy ones to fall into.  How many of us could easily list mistakes we don't want to make we've seen others make, or sadly, people who embody what we don't want to be?  How many of us have actually learned good lessons by learning from other people's mistakes.

It's fine to learn from others, but it's too easy to fall into the trap of having way too many Negative Role Models.  It may seem like a good idea to know what not to do, but it can trap you:

  1. First, it gives you an unwarranted sense of superiority.  Spending all your time noting you're not like someone else can just make you a jerk – and blind to your own flaws.
  2. Second, too much emphasis on Negative Role Models makes your life a list of not-to-dos.  This can keep you from actually doing things – because your life is based on what you don't do.
  3. Third, you don't grow.  Positive Role Models, who teach you what to become, help you get a path in life.  Trying not to follow other people's failures can mean stagnation as you stay where you are.
  4. Fourth, basing your life on negatives creates a kind of strange infinite regress.  You have so many things not to be and do you spend less time being who you are and doing things.  Life can become all about controlling risk and avoiding mistakes, leaving little space to grow.
  5. Fifth and finally, it can be depressing.  If you spend too much of your time making sure you aren't like other people, you may get depressed over all the mistakes they've made.

So, yes, it's fine to learn from the mistakes of others.  But by looking to be better than we are, to look to people who can act as role models for our better natures, we can avoid the sinister trap of Negative Role Models.

– Steven Savage