Thursday, October 13, 2011

On the Care and Feeding of Exemplars

I've got a loose amalgam of ideas floating around in my head, and I'm hoping that writing a blog post will help them congeal...

I began the day thinking about three close colleagues of mine who were at the White House today, receiving awards and shaking hands with President Obama. Of the three, one of them is something of a sleazeball, one of them is an overall decent person, and one of them is someone that I really look up to.  (Which is a hard thing for me to say, being the self-centered egotistical type... i.e., a blogger!)  Colleague #3 is what I think of when I hear the word gentleman. Someone that, after talking to him, despite the fact that he's probably 7 or 8 years younger than me, I tend to think "Gee, I'd like to be like him when I grow up..."

Why bring up these guys? This whole thing of admiring other people has so many strange cultural facets. It seems like the pendulum is always swinging between the extremes. Some rugged individualists tell you that to look up to someone else is a sign of weakness... other people sometimes seem far too eager to lose themselves in hero worship. Then there's the issue of admiring a person as a whole, versus focusing on a single admirable quality (especially if they're deficient in other areas). Believe it or not, I think Homer Simpson found the golden mean when he wanted to be an inventor like Thomas Edison:
At best, "exemplars" help us to reach new heights... and to keep our egos in check when we think we're the best thing since sliced bread. Sure, obsessing about them isn't good, but neither is pretending they're not out there.

I think this does have something to do with games. I'm really glad that the world contains someone like Alexis Smolensk, who strives for excellence in D&D and doesn't settle for mediocrity. Also, these games let us play in arenas of human endeavor where there are quantified, hard-and-fast definitions of who is "better" than whom (in certain ways). That's far from politically correct these days. Seeing someone's skills and achievements in an RPG isn't a reason to feel bad about ourselves... we're inspired to match those achievements with our own noble deeds (or devious chicanery!). Does this -- gasp -- even make us better people?

Yes, yes, this comes dangerously close to the laughable comment made in that old X-Files episode: "Well, hey, I didn't spend all those years playing Dungeons and Dragons and not learn a little something about courage."  Still, there's a grain of truth in it, too.

Anyway, I'm not sure if this all has a point or not. Maybe the general idea of "not settling for mediocrity" is what we should strive for... and the exemplars just help remind us that it's possible to stick to those guns!

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