Seneca on the Importance of Role Models

Why role models are essential for self-improvement and why we should strive to become models ourselves

scientist role model
Image by Ernesto Eslava from Pixabay

“Happy the man who improves other people not merely when he is in their presence but even when he is in their thoughts! And happy, too, is the person who can so revere another as to adjust and shape his own personality in the light of recollections, even, of that other.” Seneca the Younger, in Letters from a Stoic

In his Letters, Lucius Annaeus Seneca imparted a great deal of practical advice. Seneca didn’t hesitate to tell us what not to do and what to do. He was clear on what he considered a good life and how to get as close to it as possible.

He tells us, for instance, not to hang out with certain people. Hard as it may be, advises Seneca, we must seek distance from those who display vices we are trying to drop.

Instead, we must find ourselves role models and strive to become models for others. Seneca himself constantly quoted other philosophers and their actions in his Letters.

I’ve always thought it important to adopt role models. As a preschool teacher, I tell my students that we should copy our friends when they make good choices or to learn new things. You know, it’s around age five that kids start complaining about their classmate Charlie or Jessica “copying them.”

I often tell them what I’ve learned from my mom or another teacher, for example, and give them specific examples of behaviors I copy. I do the same, of course, for behaviors one should ignore.

I look up to Marie Curie, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and my mom, among others. I actually have pictures of them on the wall by my desk. Truly, there are so many terrible choices I’ve narrowly escaped because of the thought of what my mom would do, say or think.

I hope the fact they’re held as role models makes RBG and my mom happy. I know it gives me satisfaction to try to emulate their independent spirit and generosity.

Later on in his text, Seneca further illustrates the importance of role models for character development in a way that, more than 2,000 years later, we can still easily visualize:

There is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against you won’t make the crooked straight.

Seneca’s quotes pose these two questions: Who’s your standard? Are you, perhaps, someone’s ruler?

Day 23 of 30-day writing challenge on a single topic: Quotes from Seneca the Younger’s Letters from a Stoic.

Why this topic? Because I can’t get over how timely and brilliant Seneca’s words are -2,000 years after he wrote them.

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