GENE ROBERTSON: Living icons provide inspiration for everyone

Monday, January 9, 2012 | 2:08 p.m. CST

We enter this new year celebrating Black History Month. During this time we seek to enhance our achievements, reduce our failures and create opportunities for others and ourselves.

While celebrating both occasions simultaneously, let us begin by noting some living cultural icons who deserve to be acknowledged: Nelson Mandela, Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte, Marian Wright Edelman, Oprah Winfrey, President Barack Obama, Tiger Woods, Venus and Serena Williams, Muhammad Ali and Cory Booker.

They are role models for us to utilize as we make lifetime resolutions.

These icons are noted not for extraordinary gifts. They are mere mortals with the normal allotment of assets and frailties. They are the same as us. They may differ from us by the resolutions or choices they make and the relationships and expectations they possess. They exhibit discipline and great effort, which have extended their success. They transfer most of their developed attributes into significant actions.

The potential to excel is present in all of us. We just need to exercise our potential and put ourselves in the company of icons or become icons ourselves.

Icons appear to have made giant steps or resolutions for life rather than baby steps to the next action or possession. These icons did not make resolutions aimed at material goods for themselves. Their resolutions were toward actions that would benefit many and would take a lifetime.

While there are other icons not listed, this selection provides models to motivate us and our children to reach for the stars with our resolutions. Surely Obama and Winfrey were not making resolutions to attain the level of prominence that they now enjoy. But they were making the kind of resolutions that would enable them to be prepared to adequately address their present circumstance if it should arise. Many of us can do that.

Woods and the Williams sisters were deliberately motivated, developed and coached to become the best athletes they could be in their chosen sport. Their resolutions had to be directed toward the discipline and other mental attributes needed to excel in their sport.

Booker and Edelman could not have dreamed that their lives would lead them to the public service for which they are noted. Still they were prepared for their challenges with excellence and generosity. Their resolutions certainly were not as specific as aspiring athletes, but they were life affirming.

Belafonte, Glover and Ali were all prepared and excelled in their careers, but their professional lives and, more importantly, their social values catapulted them into becoming icons. As we assess our lives to make lifelong resolutions, we can draw upon these icons for inspiration.

Mandela is prominent in this group of icons. He made great sacrifices and also exhibited a level of forgiveness and moderation, which should be inspirational to all.

These icons made significant resolutions rather than insignificant ones. They succeeded in achieving their resolutions even though there are never any guarantees.  They are humans with positive and negative attributes who excelled. They appear to have been instilled with the values of discipline, integrity, promptness, a good work ethic and respect for others. 

Still these icons are not all cut from the same life cloth or circumstance. They became significant in many different contexts. Let their lives enhance our expectations for dynamic lives of our own in the context we choose to serve everyone, rather than toward some comfortable personal plateau.

One can only imagine the resolutions he or she makes. The resolutions are certainly beyond their own personal needs. They reflect their world citizenship. We are fortunate to celebrate these lives while they are still living during this period of our history. Let us use these icons as evidence that there are no limits for us. We possess capacities far greater than those we normally seek.

William E. "Gene" Robertson is a Columbia resident and a professor emeritus at MU.

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Michael Williams January 9, 2012 | 2:23 p.m.

How many are one percenters?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 9, 2012 | 2:38 p.m.

One person's icon might turn out to be someone else's idea of trash. One of my favorite words in the English language is "iconoclastic."

There's an old saying that goes, "Pretty is as pretty does." So let's invent a new saying, "Icons are as icons do."

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm January 9, 2012 | 4:59 p.m.

How about less athletes and actors on that list and more thinkers. Where are Neil deGrasse Tyson, Maya Angelou, or Condoleezza Rice on that list?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 9, 2012 | 6:00 p.m.

JackHamm: Excellent post.

There are many others more worthy when it comes to "icons". These others, in addition to those you mentioned, are the ones we should teach our children to emulate.

Athletes and actors?

Not so much.

(Report Comment)
frank christian January 9, 2012 | 6:09 p.m.

"These icons are noted not for extraordinary gifts."

Right on! Most, in my opinion, are noted by many, for their ideology.

"Booker and Edelman could not have dreamed that their lives would lead them to the public service for which they are noted."

Booker earned a Rhodes Scholarship for study at Oxford in UK. Edelman studied in USSR on a scholarship from an organization "recognizing the essential value of group process interaction in promoting global understanding". I think they trained themselves most of their lives for the public service for which they are noted.

(Report Comment)

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