Setting the Example
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
It was Spring Break for my kids this past week, and while I could do without the petty bickering and constant requests for food all day, I really enjoyed the opportunity to slow down and just do things together. And that togetherness these last seven days has really highlighted how much my kids watch me and ultimately, repeat what I say and do.
Now, this is part of life.
It’s biological in many ways, as that is how babies, especially in the animal kingdom, survive. At the same time, I realize what a responsibility that is for me, and for adults in general – kids or no kids. Even if kids seem like they’ve got it figured out, they still look to adults to set an example, to guide the way, to define acceptable behavior and therefore, what is not acceptable.
The behavior that we model is the behavior that will be followed. You always hear of the small child who spits out the F-bomb, or something similar, in response to dropping a sippy cup on the floor. And this is inevitable. And swearing isn’t necessarily my point, as these days a few ‘F’ words are nothing compared to the personal attacks and violent actions (and words) being slung at each other between complete strangers.
No, I am referring to the words that are meant to hurt, to sting, to manipulate, to instill fear and propel hate. These are the words that are considered “bad words” in our house. It is hard to share in witness with our children times of cruelty and disregard for others, and when the world around us often seems full of hatred and fear.
But we can also take these times to teach.
We can not only use our own words to explain the differences between kindness, assertiveness versus downright manipulation and hatred. And it doesn’t stop with words.
My eyes have been opened on many occasions and I have been humbled into really taking a look at my behavior when I see my children using certain tactics to elicit the certain toy from a sibling. I see them react in heavy emotion when unkind words are spoken to them. And this is my opportunity to set an example of how I can react when someone says unkind words to me. Or how I act when someone does something unkind to me.
I don’t want my children to think violence or personal attacks are acceptable responses when they are simply met with disagreement. Therefore, how I respond when I am met with disagreement is crucial to being the person I want them to be. If I gossip, if I act like a bully, if I call names, most likely they will, too.
And of course, nothing is perfect, and life is complicated. However, in reflecting on the state of our world, the behavior and culture of our citizens, and the challenges that are facing our children’s generation, I feel we are at a crossroads; a crossroads in shaping our future generations to come. We can complain about the state of kids these days, or even more, the state of the world. We just can’t forget that change starts with us.
We can make each generation better than the next, and not with fancier clothes and more expensive stuff. No, we can help their souls to be better, to be kinder and to learn how to foster happiness and contentment from within, not looking to the external world for approval and self-worth. We can help them to know, that amidst all of the cool “stuff”, what is often most precious cannot be bought.
This applies to how we treat ourselves as well.
Putting ourselves down or criticizing the way we look, this is heard by the little ears. Sometimes, it is the hardest thing to change our behavior or habits, especially if we’re not entirely convinced of the negative implications of our habits. If we keep in mind that we have an audience, it may help to keep awareness that our words may soon turn into those of our children. There are times I don't feel like a grown up, nor do I want the responsibilities of one. Yet, if I am not an example to my children, someone else will be. So, I have a choice.
We can see where our ego has too much control and our outer appearance, status or wealth is too strongly attached to our self-worth. We can feel the peace of surrender when we can acknowledge we can’t control other people, and that we can only control ourselves. Our children will benefit as well. We can set the example; we can be the change we wish to see in the world, which more importantly, is their world, too.