The difference between a hero and a role model is that a hero places himself in a position of risk while pursuing a noble cause, while a role model conducts himself in a socially positive way over a sustained period of time. Some role models are also heroic, placing themselves consistently at risk for the benefit of others, and doing this for a long time. Mother Theresa springs immediately to mind as someone both heroic and a role model. These are very rare however, since the risk eventually catches up with most heroes; the great football hero is injured…the soldier killed…the race car driver crashes.
Besides, the passions that often make one heroic, are frequently antithetical to their role model status. One has only to think of Tiger Woods as a stunning example of what happens when a heroic figure tries to cross over into being a role model. Heroes are almost always very poor role models. Unfortunately, most people fail to appreciate that fact and expect their heroes to also be role models, inevitably leading to disappointment. A classic archetype that makes a lot more sense is that of the anti-hero; the flawed individual cast into the role of hero despite himself. That’s why Humphrey Bogart’s depiction of Rick in Casablanca remains perhaps the definitive and beloved rendition of the anti-hero.
But it’s all an illusion nonetheless…even great role models are often heavily flawed, their secrets sometimes revealed years after their deaths….think JFK. The most significant question in my mind is why do we need heroes and role models? And secondly, why do we expect them to be perfect? Like most things, our expectations tell us much more about ourselves than they do about the other person.