It was said for all the genius that Socrates possessed, Plato, and Aristotle, and all the sages who learned from him “derived more benefit from the character than from the words of Socrates.” So it was too for Zeno and Cleanthes, the two earliest Stoic philosophers. “Cleanthes could not have been the express image of Zeno,” Seneca would write, “if he had merely heard his lectures; he shared in his life, saw into his hidden purposes, and watched him to see whether he lived according to his own rules.”
Is there a better description—a better bar to set—for a father than this? If you want to teach your kids, it’s not going to be with words. It’s not going to be with lectures. You’re going to need to let them into your life, you’re going to need to show them that you live according to the rules you are trying to tell them are important.
It’s like we’ve totally forgotten this.
We think the role of a teacher or a parent is to say the right things, when, of course, as always, our job is to do the right things. If you want them to be a reader—as we’ve talked about—you better show them what a reader looks like. Find books you can read and talk about as a family. If you want them to be a hard worker, you have to let them see you be a harder worker (show them your work, show them who you are at work). Give them a job you guys can do together. If you want them to be generous and kind, let them be a part of your generosity. Ask them if they want to help you pay for the meal of the old veteran sitting alone on the other side of the restaurant, ask them if they want to bring their leftovers to the homeless woman outside. If you want them to be grateful, make sure they hear what you are grateful for.
You want them to learn and you’re going to have to show them. Today and every day.