The power of example (#4 of 12)
Recently a few friends and I were having a conversation about the influence our parents have had on the way we think, act & observe and understand the world. One story that was shared was about someone who grew up in a home where every day conversations around the dinner table were filled with prejudices posed as statements of fact. This particular person said that he’d spent most of his adult years trying to overcome these ingrained prejudices and how hard it had been because they ran so deep, having been instilled early on in childhood.
As parents we are often surprised by how much our kids pick up from our adult conversations and how easily they repeat back to us things we’ve said in a fleeting or unguarded moment.
Still, when I think back to my parents and what they’ve taught me, I realize I can barely remember 2 or three things my Dad or Mom used to say and that have stuck with me. And of those few things I can recall, there is only one I still regularly refer to and that is my Dad telling me that in order to find happiness you have to look within. Whether you like where you find yourself at some point in time or not, your inner state of joy and happiness is in your own hands. He would say: wherever you go, you bring yourself with you. That notion he shared with me at the exact right time when I was most receptive to it and the lesson has stayed with me.
If you sit for a minute and reflect on what you remember most of your childhood and your parents, you may find that it was the habits and practices they had that have left the strongest mark. The words they spoke were of course very important as well but maybe mainly when they reinforced and were closely aligned with their actions. Children quickly see a discrepancies and incoherence when the words of the adults around them are not in harmony with their actions and deeds.
A constant and systematic way our parents taught us life lessons and spiritual values, was through the examples of how they lived their lives with myriad moments of education, instruction, and mentorship communicated through their actions and deeds. I still draw on these for inspiration and guidance every day.
Parents have a great opportunity to teach by modeling principles, attitudes and the values they try to live by.
One of my childhood memories that has had a lasting impression on me was the enthusiasm with which my parents did their work and serve others. Nothing was too much trouble and I don't remember them ever complaining or being grumpy. Any time of day someone could come over for a chat with my Mom or call my Dad for a ride to a meeting or appointment. Their easy generosity came through on Sunday mornings when my Dad would make brunch and some of our friends from the neighborhood were always welcome to join in (we'd scoot over and it seemed there was always room for one more friend to squeeze in on the long bench along the wall). I also have vivid memories of my Dad sitting on the verandah for a quiet moment of prayer, reflection and meditation. Nothing demonstrative or extra pious, just finding some personal time to recharge and reconnect.
This was one aspect of their parenting, not with a lot of words, lectures and explanations but rather through the living example of simple acts of kindness, hospitality and love, carried out with an attitude of joy and commitment to the family and positively contributing to the world around them.
When our children see us welcome people into our home (almost normal again), observe us caring about others, including those outside of our immediate family, and they see us take time for quiet personal reflection and prayer, these things then become normal and part of a way of life that they take with them into adulthood. And as they stand on our shoulders, they can continue the work of building a better, kinder world without prejudice.