The Responsibility of Influence

InfluenceThe young adult was walking through a local store wearing a t-shirt with a simple message – “Not a Role Model.” No other images, just the words standing out in bold type on his chest.

It wasn’t too long ago that NBA great, Charles Barkley made that phrase popular.  Barkley was known for his inappropriate behavior including on and off-court fights, breaking a man’s nose during a fight after a game with the Milwaukee Bucks, throwing a man through a plate-glass window after being struck with a glass of ice, and mistakenly spitting on a young girl in March 1991.

Apparently getting tired of the Sports pundits’ commentary about his out-of-control behaviors, Barkley declared in 1993 that he was not getting paid to be a role model.

But as much as Barkley wanted to be a non-model it was and is impossible.  Basketball camps filled up with children wanting to be able to rebound like Barkley.  T-shirts were emblazoned with his face, and Sir Charles’ influence spread.  A Wikipedia article said, “His impact on the sport went beyond his rebounding titles, assists, scoring and physical play.”

Even the young man sporting the “I’m not a role model” t-shirt was influential.  A younger brother or sister is secretly wanting to be like him.  His influence also spreads to his peers.  Someone is watching, and you can’t disable that fact.  Henry Ward Beecher, famous preacher, said “The humblest individual exerts some influence, either for good or evil, upon others.”

In his famous “Sermon on the Mount” Jesus told a probably surprised crowd of followers that “You and you alone are salt and light.”  This crowd was comprised of the last people on earth to believe that they had that kind of influence.  “Salt?  C’mon Jesus, how can people as poor and powerless as we be salt and light to the world?”

What the crowd of Jesus-followers and Sir Charles Barkley have in common is a discomfort with influence, either because of not believing it is possible or because of not wanting the responsibility of it.

But the lesson of Jesus and history is that no one lives in a vacuum.  Every deed has significance, and in most cases, someone is watching and admiring.