There was once a very old man, whose eyes had become dim, his ears dull of hearing, his knees trembled, and when he sat at the table he could hardly hold the spoon, and spilt the broth upon the table-cloth or let it run out of his mouth. His son and his son’s wife were disgusted at this, so the old grandfather at last had to sit in the corner behind the stove, and they gave him his food in an earthenware bowl, and not even enough of it. And he used to look towards the table with his eyes full of tears. Once, too, his trembling hands could not hold the bowl, and it fell to the ground and broke. The young wife scolded him, but he said nothing and only sighed. Then they brought him a wooden bowl for a few half-pence, out of which he had to eat.
They were once sitting thus when the little grandson of four years old began to gather together some bits of wood upon the ground. ‘What are you doing there?’ asked the father. ‘I am making a little trough,’ answered the child, ‘for father and mother to eat out of when I am big.’
The man and his wife looked at each other for a while, and presently began to cry. Then they took the old grandfather to the table, and henceforth always let him eat with them, and likewise said nothing if he did spill a little of anything.
Grimm Brothers, . (1905). The Old Man and His Grandson. Grimm's Fairy Tales (Lit2Go Edition). From https://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/175/grimms-fairy-tales/3093/the-old-man-and-his-grandson/
American writer James Baldwin said,
"Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.“
It reminds me of another story I heard. Basically, a father grabbed his infant, raised him up, looked him in the eyes, and shook him while saying, "Say daddy! Say daddy!" The dad, of course, was hoping his son could learn to speak and say "Daddy" as soon as possible. Later, the son learned to walk. One day, the dad saw the son walk outside onto the farm. The son grabbed a small chick, raised the chick up, looked the chick in the eyes, and shook it while saying, "Say daddy! Say daddy!"
From these stories, we see the importance of setting a good role model for our children. Whatever role model we set, whether good or bad, children are subconsciously learning.
We should treat our parents the way we hope our children would treat us. If we tell our children to be respectful towards us, yet our behavior is disrespectful, then children won't listen to us. They will tell us, "I'm sorry, I can't hear you because your actions are so much louder than your words."
Aside from the parent-child relationship, we can extend this idea further:
We should treat our children the way we wish our parents to treat us
We should treat our older siblings the way we want our younger sibling to treat us
We should treat our younger siblings the way we want our older siblings to treat us
We should treat our friends the way we want our friends to treat us
We should treat our boss the way we hope our employees would treat us
We should treat our employees the way we hope our boss would treat us
Only when we have role modeled the behavior we want to see in others do we have the credibility to ask others to treat us that way. As The Great Learning said,
"A virtuous person first demands himself to possess any good quality before expecting others, and first demands himself to rid any bad qualities before expecting others."
(Original text: 君子有诸己而后求诸人, 无诸己而后非诸人)
But just role modeling good behavior is not always enough for the other person to learn. We've probably all seen examples of parents or leaders with great traits that the children or followers did not imitate. If we truly want to pass on virtues to others, then in addition to role modeling, we also need to guide them. When we guide them, we need to be encouraging and not demanding, patient and not rushed. Then the other person will happily learn our example.
Weekly Wisdom Newsletter #193
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