Do As I Say Not As I Due
While driving my car home the other day, I happened to notice a small car ahead of me moving rather sluggishly and, simultaneously, another car advancing rather hastily down the road. My muscles tightening up in anticipation for an accident, though I was relived the faster moving car slammed on his brakes just in time to slow down enough to barely miss the back bumper of the slowly moving car.
Unfortunately, in those situations, friendly jesters are rarely offered. Without delay, the gentlemen driving the fast moving car exploded in a fit of rage. While I could not hear the content of his bellowing, his facile expression and pounding of his fist on the sterling wheel communicated to me he was not happy. After quickly changing lanes, he sped up to the sluggish car and articulated his displeasure by revealing a degree of education with his ability to do sign language.
It was just at that moment I noticed a few small children sitting in the back of the fast moving car. Being a rather sarcastic person, I muttered to myself, ‘Well, at least they learned how to handle that situation.’
I sometime wonder if we actually consider how much our actions teach our children. The often-heard statement, ‘Do as I say and not as I do’ is simply an expression of foolishness. Imagine if your boss said that to you or any authority in your life. Not only would you disrespect that person or people, you might even justify to yourself doing the ‘forbidden action’ because those above you also justify it to themselves.
Do we really think such a statement to your children will teach them the sure path to happiness?
What this statement really teaches our children is that morality can be bypassed once they are not under our roofs; it teaches them that morality is just a will to power where the strong rule the weak; it teaches them that authorities are a bunch of hypocrites and cannot be trusted or relied upon. Rather than seeing morality as a guide to flourish, this statement relays to them that morality keeps people from enjoying life.
What a solid foundation we are giving our children.
We often tell our children that ‘bad company corrupts good character’ without ever asking ourselves if we are the bad company corrupting our young.
Consider this quote from William Bennett:
It has been said that there is nothing more influential, more determinant, in a child’s life than the moral power of quiet example. For children to take morality seriously they must be in the presence of adults who take morality seriously. And with their own eyes they must see adults take morality seriously.
Instead of telling our kids to not act like us, we should show them how to act with our lives. We should live noble lives by putting on the worthy character traits like justice, temperance, integrity, courage, and meekness. Let us show our children how to be patient by being patient with our spouses’ faults. Let us show our children humility by asking them for forgiveness when we are mistaken. Let us show our children how to be generous by letting them partake in our liberality. Let us show our children that a loving dependence upon God is the pinnacle of human aspirations by letting them see us on our knees.
For our children’s sake, let us show them that morality is not about suppression but about true freedom—freedom from the whims of irrational passions, the whims of a corrupt culture, and the whims of elevated pride.
Morality is directed towards the true and the beautiful, not towards the phony and the unattractive. But if we live one type of life and expect another type of life from our children, then they will see morality and our lives as simply phony and unattractive.
When I was a young lad, my dad was taking me to school. He happened to have unintentionally pulled out in front of another gentlemen. My dad, noticing his mistake, waved his hand signifying sorry to the gentlemen. Instead of the letting the unintended driving transgression go, the gentlemen persisted for several blocks in trying to get my dad’s attention to show him his displeasure and anger. At one point I said to my dad, ‘He is really upset about your driving,’ to which my dad replied, ‘Well, if he is going to let that ruin his day, that his fault not mine.’ It was at that moment I realized how many trifling things I get upset about, and I resolved to try my hardest to not by that guy.
While my dad does not remember that story, I do. I remember my dad saying sorry when he made a mistake. I remember watching my dad not being provoked by the other guy into an exchange of disrespect and indignation. I remember my dad have a healthy separation from the anger of the other guy, for my dad did not worry the rest of the day about how he upset the other person. After offering his apology to the other guy, he moved on, thus teaching me that I cannot control how others feel. I remember the words my dad spoke to me that day so well that when someone cuts me off, the words of ‘if he is going to let that ruin his day, that his fault not mine’ immediately come to mind.
Notice how this one moment of my dad’s quiet example taught me so many valuable lessons about life and morality.
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Brandon Wall is a counselor in Cedar Rapids, Iowa: http://www.cedarrapidscounselingcenter.com/