Cato the Younger was not an easy man to get to do something. If he felt it went against his conscience or that it was illogical, you’d have an easier time convincing a fish to climb a tree. That’s just how he was. All his life.
So, as you can imagine, Cato was not an easy student. He resisted anyone and everyone who tried to tell him what to do. Plutarch, one of his biographers, observed that “to learn is simply to allow something to be done to you and to be quickly persuaded is natural for those who are less able to offer resistance.” This is why we start instructing our kids in the important things so early, even when it seems like they are way too young. Because if we wait, they’ll be able to easily fight us off and resist the lessons they will need in life.
Cato was an obstinate student, Plutarch tells us—“in each case he demanded the reason and wanted to know the why and wherefore.” But this resistance was nothing compared to what Julius Caesar and Pompey faced when they tried to bowl Cato over as an adult, when they tried to show him how the world really worked. It was nothing compared to what other corrupt and dishonest politicians experienced when they tried to show Cato what was in his “best interest.”
While Cato had been a resistant learner, what his teachers were able to get up and over his defenses really stuck. Those lessons about right and wrong, about doing your duty, about the history of Rome—those lessons were etched into steel. And no one was ever able to teach him otherwise…even with the threat of death or a bribe of many dollars.
We have to teach our kids early. We have to push past their reservations. Of course they would rather play video games. Of course it’s more fun to goof off. But now is the time. Before they can fight us off with their full determination. Before the cement is completely dry.