The Trek Episode 10 on Role Models: Civics Unplugged discuss having role models and where they draw their inspiration from – in collaboration with Humanity 2.0

Contributed by: Show Editorial Team

Gary Sheng, Madison Adams, Noor Myran, Julia Terpak, Ashley Lin, Maryam Tourk, Dariel Cruz Rodriguez and Chabu Kapumba, discuss role models and inspiration on this week’s episode of The Trek


  • Civics Unplugged hosts Trek Session with Gen Z community role models and finding inspiration in other people
  • Prominent Gen Z figures discuss where they get their inspiration from and the importance of knowing the difference between a healthy and unhealthy dose of inspiration
  • Future leaders of America discuss cancel culture and the challenge in having a celebrity as a role model



Brought to you by: Humanity 2.0 – a Non-Profit (Non-Government Organization) focused on identifying and removing the most significant impediments to human flourishing through technology and thought-leadership in collaboration with the Holy See (Vatican).

Special consideration; to CommPro Worldwide for their PR and media support

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTS: Gary Sheng, Co-Founder/COO at Civics Unplugged, Madison Adams, Director of Dialogue at Civics Unplugged, Noor Myran, Founding Fellow of the 2020 CU Fellowship, Julia Terpak, Founder of Gen Z Connect, Ashley Lin, Founder/CEO of Project Exchange, Maryam Tourk, Co-founder of CU Summer Camp, Dariel Cruz Rodreguiz, CU 2030 Steering Committee for Civics Unplugged and Chabu Kapumba, Senior Fellow at Civics Unplugged

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:01

Hello, everyone and welcome to groupthink. Groupthink is our dialogue series at CU, where we pick a topic and talk about whatever feels meaningful. My name is Madison, I’m high school senior from Verges Oklahoma, and I’m joined by some amazing members of our community. So if you guys could all introduce yourselves, that’d be great. 

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 00:13

Hey everyone. My name is Maryam. I’m also a high school senior, but I’m from the suburbs of Chicago.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 00:26

Hello, my name is Ashley. I am also a high school senior and I’m from Vancouver, Washington.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:27

Hi there. My name is Chabu. I am 19 and I’m a first-year at UFT.

Dariel Cruz Rodriguez – CU 2030 Steering Committee, Civics Unplugged: 00:46

My name is Dariel. I’m a junior from Orlando, Florida. 

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 00:54

Hi, I’m Julia. I’m 23 years old and I live in Pennsylvania.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:58

Hey, I’m Gary. I’m one of the co-founders of CU and I live in New York city.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 01:05

Awesome. So today we’re talking about role models and inspirations, and we like to start off with a word association, so I’m going to screen share. And when you all are ready, you just shout out your word associations, three words and then feel free to explain the reasoning behind those words.

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 01:27

I’ll start. I would say captivating because obviously you have to be captivated by this people and have interest in them. I would say empowering because something about these role models or inspirations inspires you to take action and emulate because obviously something about them you want to recreate or strive for.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 01:57

This is cool. Ashley learning in public. We are not afraid to learn in public.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 02:09

I can go after my three words are variety because I think it’s cool to take inspiration for industries and a variety of people. My second is groundbreaking because usually my role models and inspirations are people who introduce concepts and ideas that I’ve never encountered before and then evolving because the list is forever evolving with me. And I think that’s really cool to see. 

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 03:00

Okay. My words are motivating because kind of like empowering, like Julia said, they just motivate you to want to do cool things and be a better person, random for inspirations, because I often find inspiration in a lot of random places that you wouldn’t necessarily think to find inspiration in. And new, because a lot of the role models and inspirations, teach me new ideas or let me explore different parts of the world that I might not have otherwise without them.

Dariel Cruz Rodriguez – CU 2030 Steering Committee, Civics Unplugged: 03:20

So three words, so I used normal, like my type of role models aren’t celebrities or anything. It’s people that I talk to on a daily basis. Respectable, they’re respected in their industry or whatever they do, the professor, or at least I respect them and interesting because they aren’t predictable. You don’t know what they’re going to do next, which is what keeps you looking up to them.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 04:00

My three words I put energized because role models, give me a sense of direction. I put my parents, I think they were my first role models. And then paralyzed because I sometimes find it really hard to reach out to people I look up to. I think it’s like, you’re scared as a kid, they seem so cool. I think of Maryam’s imposter syndrome platform post, but I think that more so kind of played a role, like when I was younger, I just was scared of reaching out to people. Yeah, so that was what I thought. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 05:12

Okay. so mine that I had done over here was desire, because if they’re a role model, your desire to either be like them in some way or your desire to not be like them in some way. Traits, because most of the time I’m inspired by certain aspects of people, there’s very few people that I aspire to be like them in every single way. And passionate because most of the people that are my role models are just really passionate people about whatever it is that they do.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 05:52

Cool. So my three words are subconscious because you know, depending on your definition of inspirations and I think you can really pick people naturally pick up traits from people around them. I guess their spirits are influenced by people around them fictional. So I think there’s nothing to be ashamed of having fictional role models and inspirations and stories. Next is abstract. Like you’re going to be impressed by someone, but if you have no stories, if you have no case studies basically of how they’ve dealt with hard situations, it almost like makes it even worse. It’s unattainable, it’s like on an unattainable inspirations that you don’t know how to follow their path in any way.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 06:47

Thank you all for that. And I actually have a first question that I want to pose because I’ve been asking people a lot recently, what makes them feel inspired? And I’ve been hearing something that’s been surprising me, people have been saying that they aren’t really late. Like Dariel mentioned, they aren’t really inspired a lot by public figures, more by the people in their lives. So I’d be interested to know are you inspired by public figures or people in your life more or just here to hear more about that? 

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 07:21

Well, personally I think growing up, everyone kind of has people that are like, Oh, I see them on TV, that’s so cool. But as I’ve gotten older, I don’t want to say disillusioned, but a lot of celebrities or people like that. I just have a hard time relating to them or kind of looking up to them now, especially because I feel like with the public life that they lead, they have a lot more responsibility that I personally don’t feel people hold them accountable to. And so that just for me, there’s a lot of dissonance there that I guess I just don’t take a lot of inspiration from anymore, but I definitely resonate a lot with what Dariel was saying of like people in my own life. Just because and also Madison, like you were saying, taking different characteristics from people. So I’ll see one person doing something I’m like, wow, that is really cool. I want to be more like them. And I also think that it’s important to not idolize one person fully because you can kind of get blinded by other things, if you’re like, Oh, this person is perfect. They are everything that I want to be. I think that can be a negative mindset to have. So I definitely resonate with the idea of just looking to people in your life and traits that you admire.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 08:41

I think first of all, I love what Maryam said about that. I think the dynamic of how you look up to people definitely changes as you get older. But I think that I’m equally inspired by both, probably more so the people in my life than public figures, but the conversations that we have around, the things and people that inspire us typically are about public figures. If that makes sense. So even though I’m inspired more by the people in my life when that conversation happens, in general, I think people gravitate towards talking about public figures rather than everyday people that they know.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 09:28

That is really true. It’s something that I’m just starting to think about now kind of relating back to Ashley’s point where it’s hard to talk about how you’re inspired by someone in real life. Because you’re like, Oh, Hey, you’re really inspiring. And the world around you, it’s like, Oh, people that are inspiring or these dazzling figures that are these celebrities. And then if you’re talking to someone about that, maybe it might seem disingenuous or people just don’t have these conversations that much. So it’s not that normalized. And I know that I’m a type of person that I’ll convey a lot with my words. So I’ll be like, Oh my gosh, I really appreciate you, you’re amazing. You’re wonderful. And that is just how, I express appreciation, but it also might seem disingenuous to some people because I am overly exuberant with my words. So, I think that just trying to convey that is definitely something that’s hard to people and nobody ever really talks about like, Oh, Hey, having these conversations with people. And I don’t know if anyone else feels that way, but I definitely resonated to Ashley with what you were saying. And then Chabu, what you were just mentioning back then.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 10:35

I really agree with that. I would agree with what Chabu said. I feel like I am also more inspired by people in my life, but I feel like most of our conversations are not about those people because other people don’t have context about them. So it’s hard to have a conversation on why they’re inspiring if people don’t have that shared context. I forgot what I was going to say. 

Dariel Cruz Rodriguez – CU 2030 Steering Committee, Civics Unplugged: 11:30

I would say I’m inspired more by people in my life. Cause you know it seems like every single day a public official gets exposed for being canceled for something that they did really messed up and their past. And people that you work with on a daily basis, you know them better than somebody who’s just putting on an act more likely whether it be for re-election or for readings or for money or a combination of all three for some people. 

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 12:13

Yeah. To that point, I feel like I’m more inspired by people when I know the details of their journey fully. Cause I think once, you know the details you can kind of pick out if there was a lot of whether they were like on third base in a lot of ways or privileged in any ways compared to knowing people’s whole journey and kind of just all the details. And you can make out more, if that’s something that resonates with you.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 12:55

This is kind of in response to both Dariel and Julia. I think that it’s more, cause it’s not even the distinction between a public figure and someone you know personally is the fact that neither of them have ever done anything wrong. Everyone’s guilty of making mistakes in some capacity or another. I think it’s just the fact that with people in real life, you’re more likely to have context to who they are as a person in general. So that even when they make those mistakes, what they say and do still resonates in some capacity. If that makes sense. I would be down to pose the question. What are some healthy dynamics with being inspired by role models and what are some unhealthy dynamics with being inspired by role models? 

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 13:42

I think to someone’s point earlier. You can become blind to a lot of the bad that they engage in and not, they have to bring light to that fully, but also people kind of step back in speaking about that and when they idolize someone because they don’t, they just have such a positive outlook on them and they don’t want to bring those things to light.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 14:17

I also think that if you think of inspiration, the wrong way, you can end up comparing yourself to your role models. And that can also be really bad because obviously you can never be exactly like someone. And so it’s important to make that distinction as well. 

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 14:51

Yeah. I think in that same vein, just recognizing that they’re also human, like everyone’s a human and I feel like some people are devastated like, Oh my gosh, this person did this, how could they? They were my idol, my role model. And so I think just everyone is a human and capable of mistakes. So definitely just kind of not falling into those patterns of comparison or being blinded by the things that they do. And just making sure that you still have that context.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 15:08

I think something that is the default when it comes to role models that I’ve seen is emulating beliefs and and that includes like, Oh, what do you think is valuable in the world? What do you think is true? What is good versus evil? And that that’s okay. That seems natural. People it’s a tribalistic sort of emulation, but what about process? What about process goals? What about habits? What about rituals?

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 15:56

I think what I appreciate about Gary’s perspective on this question is the fact that it’s not about embodying the person as a whole or loving them, from start to finish almost, or blindly following, but just pulling the things that have added value to you and using that as the takeaway, rather than just saying, Oh, I love this person and everything that they do. Like you may appreciate a lot of qualities about them, but they’re still not perfect. And so it’s better to almost my working theory is that it’s better to just take the things that apply to your life and have added value and resonate with that rather than attaching your person yourself to that person. If that makes sense.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 16:44

Relatedly I think I’ve talked about the perils of advice, giving and advice taking. Advice is often given put out in the world very irresponsibly with little consideration, to the fact that advice that works for one type of person may destroy someone’s life. So blindly following people’s advice is really bad. And basically the more context that you have into someone’s entire life you can actually take their advice into better context as well. So that’s actually, now that I think about it as a good way to actually make sense a piece of advice as well.

Dariel Cruz Rodriguez – CU 2030 Steering Committee, Civics Unplugged: 17:51

I’d say it helps your dynamic is setting goals for yourself based off of what you see. Like your role model could be something that you want to do in the future. And an unhealthy dynamic would be trying to compete with the role model as a result of your goals. Because once you do reach those goals, you’re going to start trying to compete with everybody else including your role models. So it’s a very toxic and unhealthy situation. 

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 18:18

So is was part of what you’re saying, work hard to be your best self instead of making it about other people. 

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 18:51

To Gary’s point too. I feel like today, everyone loves the bite size inspiration, whether that’s a quote on Twitter or Instagram post or whatever it is. And that can just be very unhealthy because of the context, like a tweet could have resonated with a lot of people. It could have had a hundred thousand retweets, but that tweet could have come from someone who their context behind it was completely different than what you’re interpreting. So that becomes very toxic. I feel like today especially.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 19:24

I kind of have almost a story that relates to this. So I went through this phase where they’re these two people who I really looked up to and it was very much an unhealthy dynamic in the sense. It was healthy in the sense that it inspired and provoked me to engage in things that I hadn’t even considered before. I thought weren’t even possible at my age. And so that was good, but it was also really unhealthy in the sense that when I was not doing well or not thriving in any capacity, I would almost add myself as like, you know, these people who are your age are able to do all these things and why aren’t you able to emulate those same things? And that’s a really toxic internal dialogue because a few months later all this information came out about that person’s privilege and that privilege made those things possible. And so it was really not fair for me to look at myself for not being able to achieve something of that caliber when we are very much living in very different contexts as Julia was saying. So I think that again, you should take inspiration from what inspires you, but do not treat it like the letter of the law or a gold standard cause that can create a really toxic neural dialogue for yourself that could prevent you from doing the things that you want to do. If that makes sense.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 20:49

Yeah. I guess to that point, I feel like there’s also a difference between being inspired by someone’s external signals of their achievement versus things like their values or kind of process goals that you’re able to mimic regardless of where you start out, like as long as you are following kind of those values. And as long as you know that you are pursuing that process, kind of as your mom role model is doing it, you have that sense of achievement. I guess to me goals are like milestones in a values driven life. Like you don’t want to measure goals because your goals will always change based on what resources you have available. And if you’re measuring yourself by whether you achieve your goals or if you’re measuring yourself by how well you’re achieving the goals of others, it’s not going to end up well because your resources will constantly change.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 22:12

This is such a great question. Chabu and everyone else’s responses are so good as well. One thought that has come up as coming to mind is if you basically create, I think something subconsciously might happen if you’re not watching yourself is you could basically create like a collective competitor that is better than you in every single way and more successful than you in every single way. But you’re just mashing up everyone who may have their own, you’re creating a fake person, right. That is just really, really good at everything. And every time you look at my violin skills, I’m comparing myself to Kevin, right. Then my swimming skills, I’m comparing myself to Ashley, right. But all these people are just laser focused on a single thing. And you’re just spread super thin, comparing yourself to everyone, comparing your decent to everyone’s best, right. Or comparing your half split time to everyone’s best. So just be really cautious of that. Also people who may have a really pronounced achievement level in a particular part of their might be really shitty fathers might just really be bad people. So you have to really think about the whole system of who they are and also who you want to be.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 23:46

I have a question in response to what Gary said, and I don’t know if this is an entirely new question thread, but I think my follow-up thought is how do you openly appreciate someone’s work while also being transparent about the fact that they’re not the perfect person, but this thing that they’ve done or this accomplishment that they’ve brought to the world is still something of added value to you. 

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 24:55

I feel like, we all have to let go of ego in a way that when you think someone is great at something you want to feel like you’re right and you want to feel like they’re great at everything. So a lot of the times it’s just recognizing that. And again, back to the conversation that we kept alluding to that these people could be terrible in other aspects of their lives. But great in that one aspect. And we just have to know that that might be the case and have that conversation.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 25:26

I’m not sure how relevant this is, but I think about the difference between appreciating someone’s work versus appreciating someone as a person. I think at least for me, I appreciate people’s work in a way, but I appreciate who they are as a person in a different way. And I think I don’t know if differentiating between that allows me to also realize who they are as a person that has so much more capacity and potential for growth. And they aren’t limited to where they’re at now. I also don’t really like to word model because I feel like it has like a connotation that role models are static people and they are not static. Like they are still moving, but model makes it sound like they’re just frozen there for people to look at when that’s totally not true.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 26:38

I love so much of what Ashley just said. I think that, it also reminds me of the argument of separating the artist from the art. And that is something that I will always struggle with because I have so much love for the art, like a very personal connection to it, but then some of these artists are profoundly horrible. So where do you draw the line in that?

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 27:09

I think that’s really interesting as well because when people do bad work, it’s so easy to, well, I guess it’s, I don’t know. I don’t have an answer.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 27:30

Oh, this actually reminds me over the summer I was talking to someone about this. We were talking about the Harry Potter books and comments J.K. Rowling made. And whether that kind of this valued kind of what we got out of Harry Potter. And I think part of it is like I guess to me, when you interpret someone’s work, okay. This might be because I was just doing an assignment on news stories. Is that in my head? But when you interpret someone’s work, like it’s not just about the artist anymore, how you interpret it, isn’t an action of like, yes, partly what the author intended the meaning could be, but also how you interpret it for yourself. And I think to a certain degree, you have to give that work meaning and you have to figure out how it interacts with your own beliefs and your values. And you can kind of reclaim whatever artwork someone did for yourself in a different way. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but that came to mind.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 29:02

That definitely makes sense. And I think that is one of the things that I feel like now I struggle with a lot because people are being exposed all the time for doing something bad or saying something bad. And it’s like, yes, we can separate it out to some extent. But also to what extent are we responsible for the type of things that we consume? Like, if you know that someone’s a bad person, should you not support their music or their books or the things that they do. It’s kind of hard to separate out sometimes, especially when we live in a money driven society. And these people are able to keep going by supporting them. I struggle with this idea of separating them out, especially when I don’t want to say that a creator is their content, because obviously there’s so much more than that. Like, they’re a person, but we engage with them only through what they put out, which is their content. So I don’t know. That is definitely something that I struggle with, drawing the line for separating them. But I guess that’s only one, they’re a problematic person. So when they’re just a normal person joining the line and separating them, it’s easier to be like, yes, this is a person and this is what they’ve made versus the other people. 

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 30:33

I feel like this is where the world of how you interpret the art is a personal relationship. Like it’s intimate with yourself. But then it’s clashing with the exterior world and how they interpret the person in the art as a whole. And I don’t know if I’m making any sense here, but I feel like it’s almost like I love how there’s public pressure to almost hold this person accountable through your actions. But then I feel like it makes me feel disenfranchised from the inspiration that that person gave me, if that makes sense, because I can’t publicly discuss or even personally when I’m consuming their content or seeing them now, I have a really hard time, seeing it as anything, but the that they did anymore. And then that creates disconnect from the thing that inspired me. So, an obvious example is Obama. I grew up in a house where Obama was glorified as the first black president. And he definitely laid the foundation for me to see myself in political spaces, but he is guilty of war crimes that literally keep me up at night. And so I don’t feel like celebrating him. It was a very hard thing for me to do now, but in that same breath, I see the added value of him being in the spaces that he was in.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 32:01

Something related to this is I wanted to bring up, you can put it under this question is, I think I realized that even if a public figure says “I never wanted to be a role model. Don’t blame me for whatever people that are inspired by me.” Do I think that’s this now? I don’t know if that’s ever actually, because if people are inspired by your work or really inspired by a small part of what you do and your goal was to inspire them, they’re going to be inspired by you. And they’re going to at least subconsciously, right? Like I think that anything that you do good or bad is more okay than it was before they were inspired by you. So I mean, I think about a lot of basketball players from, especially the early two thousands that would literally say that and I’m not trying to be a role model. It’s like, well, I think Michael Jordan even said that, and that was the justification for why, you know, he shouldn’t have to worry about engaging in civic matters because he’s like, Oh, I’m just trying to play basketball. It’s like, okay, you are the most inspiring person to every kid and I don’t have the answer to this, but I think every public figure probably should really think deeply about how everything that they do that is in the public eye. At least in some regard deserves to be scrutinized, to be talked about as almost like a moral thing to talk about. I don’t know how coherent that was.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 34:22

Oh, I definitely see where you’re coming from because when I don’t want to see people sign up for the public eye, but when they are in the public eye, no matter how they got there, they do have responsibility because inspiration is a very, very powerful thing. And sometimes I think of fans who will defend their favorite artist or something at all costs, no matter what they do. And it’s like, Oh, isn’t that a little bit sketchy or on the rocks. And they’re like, Oh, they must’ve had a good reason or things like that where it’s okay. But I also understand the flip side of that, if it’s especially I think about Disney kids growing up in the eyes of the public and how every single thing they do is scrutinized. And people are making mistakes as they grow up where it’s like, yeah, that could really mess them up if everyone’s watching their every move. And it’s yes, they have responsibility. But also how fair is it for the public to criticize every single thing that they do? Because again we were talking about in the beginning, they also are human. So again, there’s a lot of distinctions that are hard to make, just because like Ashley was saying, they’re not model, they’re not static objects. They are people that are evolving and growing. So definitely it’s hard to make that distinction.

Dariel Cruz Rodriguez – CU 2030 Steering Committee, Civics Unplugged: 35:47

I would agree with what Gary said that it’s not necessarily your responsibility for your actions or people inspire, but there is some sort of, I don’t want to say responsibility, but there’s some sort of, I’ll say responsibility for lack of a better word. There’s some responsibility on you for not holding yourself accountable to your actions or to how you feel, because some people will just make empty promises and try to falsely inspire people to do stuff and leading people on isn’t good at all. 

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 36:09

Con artists are extremely good at inspiring people and getting away with it. So, yeah, I think there’s, we’re kind of circling a conversation about the ethics of being inspiring, being motivating. I follow this YouTuber that has dedicated his entire channel to outing YouTube scammers, and he’s really blowing up, which is awesome. There’s like a self-regulatory humans are awesome. Like self-regulatory ecosystem on YouTube. It seems like.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 37:20

Yeah. I think this is like going full circle and it’s probably a good time to start the reflection section. I know that we did that last time and some people really enjoyed it. So I’m going to send the link in here. If you guys want to look over what we’ve talked about for a minute or two, and then we can reflect on it. And whenever you all are ready, just shout something out.

Dariel Cruz Rodriguez – CU 2030 Steering Committee, Civics Unplugged: 38:13

I’m sorry. I was just the second time we’re doing reflections. I don’t really quite know how it works. Is it like you guys ask the question and reflect on it or is it a general thing?

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 38:21

It’s just a general reflection. So it’s not questions you can just something that you learned from the conversation, something that made you think about whatever

Dariel Cruz Rodriguez – CU 2030 Steering Committee, Civics Unplugged: 38:31

I saw generally an underlying distrust in popular people or public officials. So there’s that people are starting to realize that public officials aren’t really what their public images, that’s the entire point of public relations agencies and stuff like that. I learned all about that this semester and a public relations class and how to make people look good and not make them good emphasis on the look. 

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 39:10

I think a phrase and an idea that kept popping up that I think Julia introduced was the idea of context. And I think that that’s so relevant. And so that was an underlying theme that I think will definitely change the way that I look at. Definitely speaks to how I look at inspiration and role models differently.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 39:36

Yeah. I think something else that was reinforced in conversation was just that you don’t have to adopt everything a role model does. You can be selective with the traits that you choose to look up to. And that it’s actually dangerous for you to just blindly say that you want to be someone because you’ll adopt all of their virtues, but also all of your biases.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 40:09

I think that, one thing that kind of just kept it kept coming back to overall was just being holding other people to your own personal standards. So, that’s going to be different for everyone, but if you have a value that someone else goes against and only you can decide that for yourself and just taking your inspiration into your own hands and kind of being responsible with how you engage in it, just because that is going to look something different for everyone. But kind of defining what that means for you in a healthy way.

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 40:46

To that point, I feel like just embodying someone’s entire being, there’s no really good way to go about it. And just taking those little things from people that inspire you and latching onto those rather than the person.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 41:07

I also really like what Ashley brought up about distinguishing between who the person is and their work. I really hadn’t thought about it like that. And I realized that I do that a lot, both with people who do good things, I tend to think of them like, Oh, they’re such a good person. And then also people who do bad things. But in reality, you have to look, this again goes back to what you all were talking about earlier with context and looking at the person and making sure you have the whole picture and realizing that role models and inspirations of people too. Anything else for the reflection?

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 41:54

Yeah. Something that we didn’t talk about was basically creating your own inspirations from scratch. Some people call it a divine double, and you can sort of define a divine double, basically the most ideal version of yourself. Right. And, you know, for anyone watching, that’s part of the point of the leadership blueprint to define your ideal self basically. And I think that, there is something to be said about how it says something that this wasn’t brought up. And I think it shows that we normally think of, it has to be basically an external inspiration that informs our lives versus something that is designed from first principles.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 43:06

Wow. Mind blown having yourself as an inspiration or your ideal self. That’s crazy to think about. 

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 43:32

And I know this reflection process is new and evolving, but I think it’s really, really cool that a way to to learn something new from our conversation is to look at what didn’t take place in our conversation naturally, that’s such an amazing cue to something that needs, like why was that absent from the conversation?

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 43:50

I didn’t get a chance to call out something that, that child who said, let me look it up, but I’m blowing it. Forgot which see Ashley, this happens a lot. Just forget what I was going to say. All good. Let’s keep this on the record if I think of it. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 44:38

All right. Any other thoughts

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 44:43

I want to say, thank you for making the conversation that we have this week. It was so meaningful. 

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 44:58

I sort of thought of it. I found it so resonated so much, but I find it such a dispiriting thing that like, you know, Chabu, you could be inspired by someone and the external world doesn’t like them anymore. And you feel like you can’t express a whole part of yourself anymore. And I think that there’s a common theme here. It seems like one of the more recent update to our socio politics lashes general culture that we are constantly self-censoring, but I think it affects our private lives as well. It’s not just like, we’re changing the persona a little bit. Like it hurts in the side whenever I do that. So I don’t know if anyone else has thoughts on that.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 45:55

I definitely agree with that. I feel like we live in a time where people are being canceled, left and right. And it feels like once someone is canceled, it kind of invalidates everything they’d done in the past. And that you can’t look up to any of their work because if you do then, I don’t know. I just feel like it’s so easy for everything someone has done to be invalidated because of one thing. I just feel like it’s so black and white.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 46:45

100%. And it’s weird though, because I see not just see myself, but I know that a big part of who I am is aspiring for a society to hold itself to a much higher standard than it does right now. So it almost feels like a double standard, you know what I mean? That I’ll make these allowances, because I have such a personal, emotional connection to certain people ideas or works arts, you know what I mean? And then, if this takes place in a different context with something that I don’t resonate with, I’d be the first and second person to go to the bat for that, or hold that person accountable. So it is a internal dialogue, for sure.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 47:30

I think it also says a lot about a lack of empathy, the fact that we’re willing to cancel people for one thing that they get exposed for, because if we were to do something similar to it, we forgive ourselves because we see it as tensions as opposed to what actually happened.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 47:56

Well, yeah. I mean, this has to do with the context, right? So we have all the context on ourselves and we give ourselves all the benefit of the doubt. But when someone does anything wrong, we assume the worst, and this is evolutionary. I think it’s better to not, I don’t know. And a lot of most contexts, I think it’s better to trust, to be more cautious around a stranger or someone else. But yeah, there’s a huge double standard here.

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 48:31

And like I mentioned earlier, just bite-size information, that’s what we consume most of these days. And so we’ll just see a sentence or two and kind of just think that’s the entire context of it keeps saying context, but seriously, it was just the word to use. While to Chabu’s point, if you know someone more personally or feel that you do in some way, you give them more leeway in forgiveness. So it was just like the times were into and the internet. 

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 49:11

Yeah. I think that cancel culture in itself also makes a culture where if you don’t participate in cancel culture, you are not holding people accountable. And you’re the one in the wrong. So, even when you do try and engage with empathy or give people the benefit of the doubt, or take it as a lesson to educate people or talk and have a respectful dialogue about it. It’s almost looked down upon just because cancel culture is so prevalent where it’s just kind of like, Oh, well, you didn’t immediately cut them all out of their lives because they said this one thing then you clearly aren’t supportive of whoever was affected by this or XYZ. And so it kind of puts people in a hard position when they don’t fall into cancel culture. But I think overall it is a very toxic thing. And it kind of harms a lot of people as well. 

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 49:35

I was listening to a podcast and it was two comedians. And they were just saying they can never meet people in person that are a part of their bits because once they meet them, everyone’s human. You can tell even the embarrassing or bad stuff they did, you then understand it more and you understand where they were coming from because you hear more about it. And so, like they say, they just can’t meet people ever that they have in their bits still avoid them at different large functions, just because it just, yeah. It’s like that weird align of things. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 50:14

And I’m also realizing that because our society is so hungry for cancel culture. There’s a lot of platforms that the first time you get introduced to a person you’re getting introduced to why you should cancel them immediately. My mind goes to, I don’t know if you guys have seen on Snapchat, Now This Politics, I sometimes look at those and they always feature a different person. And it’s either really glorifying a person that I’ve never heard of, or really condemning someone. And it’s crazy to me that the first time I could be introduced to someone I could be fed this narrative, that they’re all bad or that they’re all good. 

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 51:08

I feel like a lot of this falls back to the idea of just allowing good and bad to co-exist it happens all the time, but for some reason when it pops up in some part of life, we reject the idea, it either has to be good or bad. And I think that they can happen mutually or co-exist consistently because that’s just how human beings operate.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 51:34

So, Chabu. I had a really good conversation recently with Madison about the, I feel like I learn about more about what vulnerability affords for oneself and for others. So I find when I admit that I have overcome that I have a deep vulnerability, right. That it’s my cognitive machinery. There’s a bug. I was I almost can describe it as a bug in my cognitive machinery. It’s like, okay, the rest of my brain can start orienting itself to kind of debug it. Right. So, if I deny that the bug exists, it can kind of seep into the rest of my system. So I guess I found in my life that, you know, when I admitted that I was probably alcoholic just like most college kids and post-grad kids in New York city, I was able to get rid of that. Right. When I realized I was addicted to video games in high school once I admitted that I was able to get rid of that. And I think it also gives permission to other people too. And also when I admitted that, I was really dogmatic in my political views before. And, but I saw how that was hurting myself and others and admitting that in myself, has I found giving permission to other people to admit that in themselves and see that in themselves, which is actually also a full circle. Because if you respect me, then you started to respect that process that I am admitting to that identity. It’s kind of like transferring credibility to being vulnerable and admitting to vulnerabilities in your system and in trying to overcome them.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 53:32

Part of why it’s hard to get context on public figures is because they aren’t super vulnerable. Like you don’t know what is going on in their lives. I feel like that’s I think a consistency among people, in my charitable model is, is that they have to be incredibly transparent and authentic. Like that is something I look for. If someone is transparent and authentic, I will probably be drawn to them in one way or another. But I feel like that’s really hard to find in public figures. 

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 54:17

I think that, there’s something really, there’s a distinction between voluntary vulnerability and then forced function vulnerability where you get called out and then you follow up by saying, yeah, this is the thing that happened. And usually when someone goes through the process of explaining why something happened, it’s completely valid, but it loses the meaning because it’s being set after the fact and not beforehand. But I want to propose the idea that there’s potential that our culture is shifting to appreciate people who are more vulnerable. I think of a really popular YouTuber, Emma Chamberlain and how everyone loves her, but mostly because she’s just as messy as we are in our own personal lives. And she doesn’t pretend not to be and instinctively, we appreciate that. Or even the way that Instagram is changing where people are having less, perfectly curated Instagram feeds with matching color schemes and everything. And it’s just more like posting to post. So I feel like there’s a few cues that could suggest that maybe that’s where we’re heading, where more authentic, more vulnerable, more honest or presentations of yourselves is what actually resonates with people.

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 55:34

Yeah. And I think people are kind of exhausted at this point with all the curated perfection of social media of the past few years. And that’s where certain apps thrive more now because they feel more authentic.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 55:47

So, I want to want us to be respectful of everyone’s time. I have kind of final question. That’s quite meta cause we’re inside of it right now, but how has this conversation shaped how you see the value of uploading conversations like this?

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 56:20

Well, just one thing that I think a lot is that maybe it’s hard for people to reflect on their own about inspirations or role models and be honest with themselves, but seeing other people do it and talk about it and be vulnerable if you will, with each other it might inspire them to do the same and also consider and reflect. And I think just a general theme throughout groupthink is that we’re talking and thinking and reflecting on things that we might not have otherwise, or that have kind of like maybe been in the back of our minds, but we’ve never really like sat down and actually talked through them or heard someone else’s perspective on them. And so I think that in general, it’s really valuable to upload them for people that maybe don’t have a space to talk about it or could just get value from listening. But especially about something like this where people might be getting inspired by someone and listen to this conversation and be like, Hey, maybe I can approach this in a healthier way. And yeah, I guess that you’re right. It is kind of meta because it puts us in this loop of like, Oh, are we responsible for what we’re saying in this conversation, if it’s going online and could potentially influence other people.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 57:35

I also think it’s very clear that we’re grappling with these ideas. It is very much like we are figuring it out as we’re saying things and there’s added value and just being transparent about the process and showing people that there was no need to have a perfected, conclusive, clear, concise, never changing perspective on things.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 58:04

And I think that my spelling errors may just add to that. I’m not perfect. But yeah. Any final thoughts before we close? Awesome. Well, that was really good. I really enjoyed this conversation, Gary. You were right. This is a good one. So thank you all for taking the time out tonight and I hope to see you all next week. Bye everyone.

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