“There is nothing more important than an example,” Leo Tolstoy writes in his brilliant page-a-day book, A Calendar of Wisdom. An example, he says, leads “us to do good deeds which would be impossible without this example. Therefore, if we use dissipated or passionate or cruel people as examples, it destroys our soul. The contrary is also true.”
For the last several months, we have talked about the power of teaching by example, of being what you want to teach your kids, of showing them what a good person looks like. But, of course, this is not the only thing meant by “teaching by example.” Tolstoy, for example, uses all sorts of examples in A Calendar of Wisdom. He uses quotes and stories from the Bible, from Marcus Aurelius, from Ralph Waldo Emerson. It’s very clear that he idolizes these great teachers—that they are heroes in his home, in his heart and, therefore, in his writing.
The question for you is who are the heroes in your home? What stories are you telling your kids and who are you teaching them to admire and emulate? Michael Vick won a lot of football games, but is maybe not a great example to talk up at home, even if you are an Eagles or a Falcons fan. Maybe you support some of Donald Trump’s policies, but it should be non-controversial at this point to say that he is not the kind of guy to use as an example for anything positive at home. Lincoln, sure. Carter, sure. Washington, sure.
We have to decide who we are going to teach our kids to look up to. We have to understand that they are naturally going to follow our gaze—so that means thinking about who we look up to and talk about. Let’s pick some heroes that will help build their souls, not destroy them. Let’s help our kids learn by example—by examples.