“We learn by doing.” That is a statement that reverberates within all of us, for nothing is more obvious as a window to our inner being than how we act. For many people, this is a mantra that is worth emulating. I personally feel it is the mainstay of child education. The idea that your actions can directly influence a child’s development is a little daunting to some, however this is one of, if not the main way children learn about behavior and social interaction. Children are first and foremost imitators. They learn by watching how the adults in their lives act in all situations. They watch their teachers. They watch their local police and those working in the businesses they frequent. Mostly, they learn from watching their parents. Parents have the toughest job in this, as their children are around them most of the time.
However, there are plenty of parents out there who think telling their children about social interaction and behavior is the epitomy of their efforts to raise a socially aware and compassionate child. They try to instruct their children about compassion and discipline in the social theatre. They speak to their children about situations where these traits are to be used. They talk about the news and information their children are exposed to so that these children can interpret and act in a socially acceptable manner. Their efforts are usually presented in the form of lectures and speeches and talks to their children so that they can impart their ideas about social interaction and understanding.
Unfortunately, these same parents seem unable to grasp that their actions are not in tune with the philosophy they try to instill in their children. Their actions are, often times, hypocritical in regards to what they say about society and social interaction. They are unaware that their children are watching and absorbing these actions far more thoroughly than some speech given in stilted tones by an uncomfortable parent who wants to try and present a more utopian view of human interaction in social settings. They fail to realize that their kids are going to copy their behavior and react as the parents have to certain situations. These parents are unaware of the damage they do to their children and their children’s development in a social setting. They are ignorant of just how much their children are watching and imitating their true actions as opposed to the pretty speeches they make.
Hypocrisy is something rampant in our culture and children see examples of it everyday. They listen to their parents tell them that they should be nice to people, and then watch these same parents scoff and degrade a person on the street for their dress or mannerisms or a pre-conceived idea of acceptability. The parents speak of diversity and its positive effect on culture, and then witness these same parents bigotry and narrow-mindedness towards other cultures. They hear stories of ‘being a good winner’ and ‘being a good loser’, then sit and stare as their parents flaunt their successes and brag of their achievements, not to mention the degrading attitude they spew to those they feel are ‘inferior’. Is it any wonder that these children grow up to become ruthless criminals and malignant business people, solely bent on their own achievements and gains? Is it any surprise that these children become the very thing their parents used to speak of as being ‘bad’? In our society, we seem to measure success by our material possessions, and how we flaunt these possessions to the population in general. This is usually in direct opposition to the lessons these parents seem to want to instill in their children.
It is an old saying that it is ‘easier to go downhill than uphill’. Parents often use this to explain the doing the right thing is not always simple or easy, but it is the correct thing to do. However, their actions are usually in direct conflict with this statement. Of course, the humor, if there is any in this, is that the parents often do not see their children are trying to point out these inconsistancies to them. They are in the mindset that children are incapable of imparting any lesson to an adult. This is hubris at its most dangerous. Adults are not the epitomy of knowledge, and only the most insensitive of adults feel they are beyond being taught anything. However, this is most of the population. The rampant hypocrisy in our culture is displayed for these children everyday, and for these parents to think they can spend a few minutes extolling the virtues of positive social interaction and the go out and behave in a completely opposite way is nothing short of amazing in the scope of their hypocrisy.
So what, as a community, can we do to impress upon these children the virtues we wish them to take into their adult lives? We lead by example. We do not give speeches of virtue and honesty and social positivity and then act like racists and social deviants. We do not speak of kindness to others and then cut off people in our cars and break in store lines. We need to present ourselves, not as paragons, but as people who practice what we preach. We must be aware at all times our actions are being watched and judged by those who will not hesitate to put our actions into practice. We as a community are every bit as important as the parents in that the children are around each day. They are watching our moves and how we relate to each other as well as our interaction with them. These children are needing to see practical applications of these lessons we wish to teach them, not viewing them as some distant, unrealistic goal.
To instill in children a sense of social justice, a sense of compassion, and a sense of self-discipline should be the common goal. We will only accomplish this by acting on these goals, not by giving them lip service and acting like small-minded people who are only interested in self accumulation and how our materialism appears to others. The lessons we should be teaching are the lessons we should be practicing. It is only through this that we can hope to instill a sense of community and social justice in our children. It is only through our living the goals presented that we can hope to show our children a more tolerant and socially acceptable way of interaction, so that our society will grow in a positive and benevolent way. It is this that will create the society we wish to live in, as opposed to a society of malignant people who are only interested in what life can do for them, not what they can do for life. The creation of a society that is more into helping our fellow man and guiding our children to better interaction is certainly more acceptable than the alternative chaos that some seem more intent on creating.