July 2016 – Inspiring Role Models – The Real Heroes

Sunita Behl

We live in a world filled with superficial celebrity culture but who are the real heroes or heroines that you look up to? We’d like to thank this month’s contributors for sharing their views on their inspiring role models, the traits they possess and what they have achieved that makes them stand out.

Next month we want to hear how you feel about ‘me-time’? Do you think it is important to take timeout for yourself every day? Is it possible to build ‘me-time’ into a busy life? Or do you believe the thought of ‘me-time’ is a selfish or unrealistic goal? Please send your article for next month’s issue on ‘Making time for me’ (400-700 words) to grit@womenempowered.co.uk before 20th July 2016.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Sunita Behl

Role models do not need a title, wealth or fame

By Sheila Lalani, Strategic business and design consultant, Bentley designs UK Ltd 

An inspiring role model is a person whose behavior, example, or success can be emulated by others, especially by younger people. Celebrity culture has led us to believe that a role model must be physically attractive, successful and wealthy; they must ‘have it all’. It’s a harsh reality but today social media can influence who our heroes should be. And it especially influences our younger generation who have been born into an accelerated media-driven society.

My personal heroine is my maternal grandmother. She is the embodiment of an inspiring role model, having lived through a celebrity culture of a different age yet untouched by the proliferation of social media.

She was widowed at the very young age of 28 with seven children aged between 10 years and 6 months old. However she never re-married and instead dedicated her life to educating and bringing up her children and supporting her family as best as she could. She had family support, but was still tremendously poor. My mother remembers living in two rooms but having the happiest childhood and I put that down to the tenacity, love and fortitude of my grandmother. My grandmother passed away at the age of 94 having already lost three of her own children at early ages. She never felt sorry for herself and was a rock to my mother and to me. She showed me unconditional love in a world riddled with selfishness and self-obsession. A naturally beautiful woman, she died with hardly a wrinkle on her face, having used but one brand of moisturiser her whole adult life.

Today I am a mother of three teenagers and each day is an upstream swim against the tide of superficial celebrity and social media culture which is lauded and thrust upon my children. It’s an uphill race to dampen the pressures imposed on fertile, impressionable minds that they must be the prettiest, the slimmest, the brightest, the sportiest, the leanest, the most charismatic, the fittest, the most popular, the most successful…Where does it end!?

Reassuringly studies, such as that conducted by M. Price-Mitchell PhD of Roots in Action, reaffirm that role models can still come into our children’s lives in many ways other than celebrity culture and do not have to be constrained by titles, wealth or fame. A role model can be a parent, family member, educator, peer or even people we meet in our everyday life. The study showed that the five important qualities a role model to teens are: a clear set of values (phew!); passion and ability to inspire (which was by far the greatest attribute); commitment to community; selflessness and acceptance of others; and ability to overcome obstacles.

‘Women at Cambridge’ of the University of Cambridge recently delivered a chapter focused on the term ‘role model’ in the workplace. Significantly, and contrary to what the proliferation of celebrity culture might lead us to believe, the gender of role models is not relevant in any way. Important qualities derived from this study include having integrity, being relationship-focused, exercising authority and leadership, being inclusive, pioneering, accessible and fallible, delivering high quality work and attitude, being rounded, confident, authentic and resilient.

So, in this world filled with superficial celebrity culture the real hero/ heroine has to be the child of the 21st century who is able to differentiate superficiality from reality and who aspires to emulate the attributes judged important in a role model. A real hero/heroine is the child of the 21st century who will find balance in physical, intellectual, spiritual and emotional qualities and in the future, give back to the bigger society. A real ‘stand out’ hero/ heroine is the child of the 21st century who will not compromise on basic values or his/her own identity.

“Be authentic, summon support, find like-minded others, do what you believe in, trust your instincts, take up offers of intellectual and other support/friendship, never compromise your basic values or identity.”

Alison Liebling (Prof Criminology and Criminal Justice, Cambridge University)

My hero helped me discovery my identity

By Mandeep Rai, Broadcast Journalist, Presenter, Venture Capitalist, and Entrepreneur

I grew up in Gloucestershire in the 1980s as the only ethnic minority in my school and village. I was named Indian or Paki very publicly, very often. I was keen to learn more about my ancestry from Punjab so aged 14 I visited India for the first time. As a young adolescent I got my first glimpse of the depth of the Indian culture which would go on to help me rise above any ignorant word.

I wanted to arm myself with inspiration from my Indian heritage and one of the first contributions were Raghu Rai’s photographs.  His images are world renowned, and his dedication and love for his own nation filled me with pride!

By the age of 21 I was working as a BBC World Service Journalist and the first post that I chose was a year in India and I was eager to meet the man himself. Treating me like one of his own daughters Raghu Rai taught me so much back then, and continues to do so today. And I am proud to say that as I write this article he is sitting next to me right now, here in London.

What makes him standout for me is his complete devotion to his vocation, art and profession. He is completely charged when there is a camera in his hands. I have witnessed him shoot the vistas that I know, love and live in everyday – and I see him play! Play with the camera, play with the environment and play with the people around him. I see that his kind of soulful photography takes an endless appreciation of life, of the human spirit and the way it is wrapped up in God’s Gift of nature.

In his words; ‘The purpose of photography is to capture the time we live in because that will be the photo history of the time. A photograph takes you right the heart of that experience. History can be rewritten but photography cannot. A photo captures a place instinctively and intuitively. To connect with, and capture the current moment, which lives beyond time and any genre of photography, is to capture those intuitive impulses that are in the heart and spirit of what is taking place before you’.

Creativity happens before thinking and philosophy. It’s a moment of realisation and experience.  When seeing Raghu Rai in action, shooting whilst at one with his environment, you see that he is at peace both in meditation and flow. So for me he is one person who has truly found his vocation and is serving the rest of the world through it.

I see Raghu Rai as my inspiring role model because he has seen, captured and shown me a side of India that I would never otherwise have seen. Indeed, he has shown the world India’s heart and soul through his photography – informing, educating and empowering not only myself but many others. Thank you Raghu Rai.

For my sister

By Susan Graham, Founder of Jaspal’s Voice

When I hear the word ‘hero’ my thoughts instantly turn to my sister Jaspal. At the age of 57 Jaspal sadly passed away after a long battle with Motor Neurone Disease. However throughout her illness she remained dignified and positive at a time of great adversity.

Jaspal was the most kind-hearted, beautiful, vivacious socialite you could have ever have known. She was often referred to as a Bumble Bee buzzing from flower to flower, carrying her flamboyant personality and laughter. On the surface, Jaspal was no different from many people. She had a husband and three children, lived in a beautiful home, enjoyed cooking, entertaining, music, dancing and loved to tinker with her home décor. She seemed to have the perfect life.

At the age of 45 Jaspal’s life was shattered when she was diagnosed with the cruel terminal illness ‘Motor Neurone Disease’. This disease affects the central nervous system and slowly but surely disables motor skills until the sufferer can no longer move. Worse still, the brain is still as active as normal but without the ability to communicate leaves them trapped in their body and isolated from the world. Knowing that this is going to happen and that there is no cure is too much for most people and they have a three year life expectancy from diagnosis.

Jaspal was different. After many tears and anger she decided she was not going to let this disease change her personality and remained positive throughout. She would always greet you with a huge smile even though she was suffering with pain inside. During her illness she was determined to make her life as normal as possible. Instead of hiding away she maintained her social life. Jaspal always had a very positive aura around her. She always gave her time and sound advice to each and every person who came to her with their problems, even though she was the one in the wheelchair silently suffering. She would always say ‘believe in yourself and you can do whatever you want in life’.

She taught all of us how powerful your mind really is. Undoubtedly it’s difficult to keep a positive attitude when you’re facing a life-threatening disease, but, somehow Jaspal did just that. She kept her mind constantly active by doing the Rubik’s Cube, twitching her nose to tell us which direction to move the cubes, and blinking once for ‘yes’ and twice for ‘no’. We would have a blast laughing when we would get instructions muddled up! She was extremely generous and considerate of others. When friends and relatives came to visit her she made sure they would always eat something even though she was unable to eat. An example of her altruism was her generous, anonymous, donations to appeals on TV about children suffering from any form of illness.

Jaspal’s kind gestures and positive approach to life pretty much sums up the way she lived her life. There are other aspects to Jaspal’s heroism and too many to describe here. She reached out to people and touched them with her smile, her heart, and her contagious laugh. She never used her illness as an excuse for not being able to do anything, she did it all……..

As the disease progressed Jaspal refused to be beaten in any aspect of life and invented new ways to communicate with her family and friends using her mobile phone. On her last night, with her form of communication she was able to send a message to her husband and three children saying ‘goodbye’.

After confounding doctors and suffering from the disease for 12 years, Jaspal sadly passed away in May 2012 but for us she will always live on.

For more information please visit http://www.jaspalsvoice.co.uk/

Stand up for what you believe

By Rishi Khurana

For me, a hero is someone who inspires us. There are so many inspirational people in this world – from sportspeople who perform at the highest levels in their field, actors who move you with their emotion and presence, through to leaders of industry who innovate, create and the shape the world around them.  However, a true hero is one who sets themselves apart in times of adversity. Someone who leads and inspires, despite the odds being stacked against them. Someone who understands the difference between right and wrong and can change a generation.

Many who fit this criteria, past and present, however, for me there is one person who is only just making her mark.

Nadiya Savchenko, a military pilot, volunteered to fight with a ground unit against pro-Moscow separatists who launched an offensive in Eastern Ukraine against Kiev’s pro-western government. She was captured and put on trial in Russia, charged with complicity in the deaths of Russian journalists who were killed while covering the conflict. A Russian court in March sentenced her to 22 years in jail. During her time in jail she mounted a hunger strike and was even elected, in absentia, to become a member of the Ukrainian parliament having become widely regarded as a symbol of resistance against Russia.

Upon her arrival back in Ukraine, she tweeted “I am ready to once again to give my life for Ukraine on the battlefield.” Unfazed by her treatment by the hand of her captors, she is emboldened to continue her journey, as the gaze of her countrymen and women firmly fixate on her freeing the country from rampant political corruption as well as Russia’s stranglehold. Her defiance during court appearances and multiple hunger strikes has demonstrated her willingness to endure hardship in the service of her nation. The contrast with the existing political elite could not be starker.

In a world that is currently dominated by political firebrand and posturing, Nadiya represents a bygone era. An era when individuals stood for what they believed in. With no political ambitions, beyond freeing Ukraine from its aggressors, Nadiya has been thrust into the limelight, and is now being hailed as a possible future presidential candidate.

Who is my hero?

By Ritu Sethi LL.B (Hons), Solicitor and Author of a Guide to “Having it all now”

This is a question that has always alluded me. When I’m asked to think of role models or inspirational people, so many people come to mind, but then we dismiss them as we discover their flaws. However there is no one perfect person and we all have at least 25% flaws. So, if we focus on the qualities we admire in our heroes or heroines we can then understand the 75% of goodness that they bring to the world.

Being in the corporate /legal world, you would think it is hard and ruthless. So when you see “kindness” in action this really touches your imagination. Early in my career, I went to a seminar by Tony Robbins. Not knowing what to expect I went alone, thinking it was business seminar, only to realise on arrival that 5000 other people were also attending!

Watching this man give his all and inspire every person in the room to be the best version of themselves changed everything for me. The seminar gave me a buzz to accelerate my company goals to make our Law firm one of the best in the area; to take care of my appearance (I went on to become a fitness instructor); to start a spiritual journey (I moved away from ritual morning prayers to talking to my soul anytime of the day); and most importantly learning to give back and show kindness to all around me. Now, if we ever have a request for donations to a charity, we never turn anyone away. My journey from this one seminar given by just one person, whose career is to make you believe you can do whatever it takes in the business world, awakened so many other qualities in me which makes him one of my best role models.

However there are many others who inspire me too. I admire the work done by Oprah Winfrey to bring out issues of human nature that everyone can relate to in a compassionate way. There are so many talk show hosts, but she stands out. She can relate to the individual and goes into the essence of the person to bring about a better version of themselves. I never tire of watching her and how she interacts with everyone around her, making each person feel special.

And then there is my friend Kay, who goes to a restaurant and will ask the waiters their names so she can relate to each one personally – that is something I admire too.

I would not put any of my role models on a pedestal, but I have learnt something from each of them; kindness, humanity and how to reach out to people on a personal level.

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2016 GRIT Topics

AUGUST – Making time for me
Many of us think of August to enjoy the summer and look forward to the holidays. Tell us your views on how you feel about the importance of ‘me-time’? Do you think it is important to take timeout for yourself every day? Or is the thought of ‘me-time’ selfish or unrealistic?

SEPTEMBER – Health and Body talk
Do you think there is a link between body image and self-esteem? Do you feel there is too much pressure on women to stay young or be thin? What do you think of photo-shopped female images used throughout the media? If you have a view on any body image or health-related issue from cosmetic surgery and the size zero debate to the impact of fad dieting or social media we want to hear from you.

OCTOBER – Is a woman’s role changing?
Do you think a woman’s role has changed? How different is your life to previous generations? Do you think you have more opportunities than ever before or that there is more pressure to succeed? Is it really possible for a woman to manage ambitions alongside a happy family life? How has a woman role changed in society and the wider world? Please share your views.

NOVEMBER – Back to business
Have you started your own business? Do you have views on the benefits of working for yourself or would you recommend that you should stick to the security of a corporate career? Does the thought of being your own boss feel you with excitement or fear? Please share your experience, advice and business tips for others who may be thinking of taking the big step.

DECEMBER – Looking forward to 2017
What are your big hopes and plans for 2017? What will you change or how will you make a difference? Please share your proud moments, memories and achievements of the past year and your hopes for the New Year.

WE needs YOU!

Thank you.

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