“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” –Buddhist Proverb
I don’t know Miley Cyrus and don’t feel as though it is my prerogative to comment on the choices she makes in her personal life. As a fellow human being, certainly my compassion does go out to her and those who love her as she negotiates whatever thorny path it is she’s on. But she is a performer, and as such she invites (some may argue demands) a reaction. She is also a public figure and thus makes herself available for public commentary—the large and the small. So here is mine, small as it may be: It is time, seriously time, to have a national conversation about dignity.
Daily I speak to my sons about dignity—about how they conduct themselves at home, away from home, in public. There are consequences and even more conversation when they don’t and plenty of praise when they do. We emphasize that it is possible to be silly, to be intriguing, to be yourself and still maintain your self-respect.
We also try to underscore that there will be plenty of moments in your life when your self-possession unwittingly fails you, when you do something you regret. We then explain that it’s what you do next that matters, how you conduct yourself in the aftermath.
My sons were too young to watch Cyrus’ most recent performance; but at 9, 8, and 4 it won’t be long. And certainly (and sadly) if it’s not Miley Cyrus, it will be someone else. Further, Cyrus does not count as a role model of theirs. However, outside the four walls of our home I suspect there were plenty of children watching and plenty of young people for whom this performer is (or was) something special.
But at the end of the day it’s not Miley Cyrus’ responsibility to be anyone’s role model. People don’t set out to be role models; they become such when the choices they make inspire others to positive action. No one wakes up in the morning and says, “I think today I’d like to become a role model.” It happens organically, when you’re not looking, by a continuous effort to be the best version of yourself.
Miley Cyrus is not a role model, but her actions do communicate something about the concoction so many performers are forced to become, about the challenges of fame, about the difficulties she battles.
And her actions also show precisely what it is that gets us all talking.
But perhaps we’re talking about the wrong thing. Maybe instead of talking about Miley Cyrus we should be talking about ourselves—how we talk to one another, engage with one another, how we conduct ourselves, and why this is all so important.
It’s a conversation long overdue and one that I can clearly never stop having with my children.