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An informal, stream-of-consciousness reflection on business ideas, events and issues in modern business, modern life and with some specifics to the web-software industry by Paul Tomori, Internet Entrepreneur

On Idols Heros and Exemplars
By Paul Tomori
Thursday, May 06, 2010 at 17:32:37 (EDT)

I have always considered it a noble pursuit to attempt to write and speak with precision. If a word just SATISFACTORILY represents what one is trying to say, why not look for a better word that PRECISELY states it? It's simply about setting a higher bar for oneself... or forcing oneself to be a less mentally lazy. Further to this, I spoke recently of how person X is an 'exemplar' to me as opposed to a 'hero'... or an idol.

Hammering a semantic wedge between the 3 words:

Idol: Generally reserved for the super elite. You'd almost want to touch (or be touched) by such a person so as to somehow absorb a bit of their greatness. For those who are religious, the word is generally reserved for God alone or maybe Jesus. For the secular world, you might find people like Ghandi or Mother Teresa in the idol category. Notwithstanding the semantic abuse perpetrated on this word by the popular reality show (American Idol), this word should only be assigned to those who have done something absolutely extraordinary and enduring across their lifetime.

Hero: This one is for those who have stepped up to the plate during some catastrophic or unexpected event and displayed extraordinary courage. Captain Sully would certainly qualify!. A hero may actually possess enduring qualities of bravery or good judgement, but those qualities might normally warrant a lesser label. Which brings us to the next word.

Exemplar: Hardly an insult by its thirdness in the respect hierarchy, an exemplar is someone who more or less consistently exudes or displays an admirable personality trait. Perhaps they have exceptionally high morals or a self-developed talent that deserves to be emulated. In my book, the exemplars of our modern world include Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger in the investment world, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in the computer business world and guys like Neil Peart, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Don Henley in the music world.

It's important to have a few individuals that you admire in all 3 classes. It's also important to not elevate people to any class above their objective place in society - this is what commonly happens with impressionable young adults when they adhere to cult leaders, or wide-eyed teenagers when they worship at the altar of popular musical figures (whose popularity is not necessarily commensurate with their talent).

As a guy who lost his dad at a very young age, I was forced to identify with influential male figures just to try to fill that void in my life. I have had perhaps 100 surrogate fathers in the political, business and artistic world. They never knew it of course, but their status was pretty important to me. On a smaller level, teachers, bosses, dads of friends, etc... all played a role in being the dad I didn't get to enjoy.

Having read Ted Rogers biography recently, (he lost his father very young too), I came to see a similar approach to life in him. He had to imagine the virtuous person his father must have been, because it gave him a yardstick by which to measure his own life (what boy doesn't want to outdo his father and what father doesn't want his boy to outdo him?).

I really thrive on the influence of an exemplar like Warren Buffett who I went to see this past weekend. No, I don't view him as a hero or an idol... just a guy who knows how to set a great example. It makes me want to be a better person. The world could use more guys like him.

Having the right exemplars is extremely important. If you worship the powerful, it might set you off in the direction of seeking power over others (not very healthy). If you worship the superrich just for being superrich, it could really mess up your priorities. If you worship the tough guy who kicks ass (literally) and who smokes like a chimney and shoots steroids to get big muscles, you'll be in trouble. So, ask yourself "are my exemplars worthy of the respect I give them?" Are they worth mimicking. It's time for a spring cleaning. Maybe, it's time to oust some of the duds. Maybe it's time to identify the frauds. Authentic heros and exemplars are rare, but they are not non-existent. Find yours...

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