Are you a good soldier?

Burbank, California; March,2003;
Joan Marques, MBA, Doctoral Student

Renzo looked me in the eyes, bend over to me, and produced a wise smile as he said these memorable words: "You almost never get up to the highest rank if you're not a good soldier."

So what was it that caused my friend to make this statement? Actually, a pretty controversial topic: We were discussing politics, and, as a logical consequence, the person whom I consider my role model. However, I lately came to the conclusion that my role model was not performing up to my expectations. He was making statements that I had a hard time digesting as being his own. I was almost convinced that he was just being very professionally given his position and his perceived responsibilities.

So I brought that up in the conversation with my friend. I told Renzo that I had always been so proud of this person--still was, actually--but that I had begun to realize that he was a human being after all, with human perceptions and unknown pressures, and that all I could hope for was that he would ultimately--maybe years from now--present an explanation for his illogical declarations at this point in time.

That's when Renzo worded his life-experiences in the smashing sentence above. And he made me think about it for days. Here are the conclusions I drew from Renzo’s proclamation:

1) With some significant exceptions here and there, Renzo's words are as true as can be: most people only reach the highest ranks if they behave like "good soldiers," meaning that they execute some acts that their hearts or consciences are not fully supportive of, but because of the goal they set, or because of the responsibilities they took on, they perform as expected. Whether they will pay a toll for their acts at a later stage in their lives or not, remains to be seen.

2) As a next step in my thought process, I concluded that, in fact, people who don't reach ultimate heights in their careers should not necessarily be perceived as losers, pacifists, or even ambitionless individuals. They may just have been more devoted to their ethical perspectives than the ones that did make it to the top.

3) Consequentially, I found that role models, on the other hand, should not feel too bad about their occasional fall from ethical grace either, because they would have never become the famous role models they are, had they not admitted to some actions that they may have been less proud of in retrospect. People need role models to look up to. Being one can be a heavy and sometimes even unwanted burden on one's shoulders!

Elaborating on my third conclusion, I found that society, no matter whether it's in the U.S., Europe, Asia, Africa, or another continent, oftentimes demands certain choices from us. And once we made our choice we have to stick to it for reasons that may not always be obvious to the ones that observe us from a distance. Like my role model, there are many others who sometimes perform in ways that are hard to understand for their admirers, but these "exemplary" people are the only ones who can measure the necessity of their acts, seen from their unique positions.

Overall I realized that it's a tough chore to climb the ladder of esteem. For when everybody regards you as highly as possible, there is always at least one thing you and you alone know about yourself, which you are not so proud of.

It seems to me that the wisest thing for all of us to do is to see everybody as a potential role model, because the position one fills in life is often the outcome of the choices one makes. Ending in a low position may mean: having been exceptionally ethical in the choices one made; and ending in a high rank may mean: having executed some less honorable deeds on one's way up.

Finally, this is what I can share: My role model will remain my role model. But from now on, so will be the waiter, the gate-guard, the janitor, the cab driver, and my car-mechanic. For they, too, made choices. And maybe some very admirable ones!