As part of her college ethics class, my daughter was asked to list the core values she was raised with. Here is her list:
Always tell the truth
Work hard for what you want
Wow, I thought, she really was paying attention when she was growing up! I was glad to see reflected back to me values that I hold dear in my own life, and glad that these were among the values she has carried with her into adulthood.
But what really stunned me was her answer when I asked her how she learned these values. She said that she remembers that this is how I behaved. She had some very specific memories as examples, especially of kindness. Some of the examples I didn’t even remember. But she was watching when she was a little girl, and learning not from what I said, but from what I did.
She told me that she sometimes thought my standards were unfair, especially when other kids were held to a lower bar. I remember one time when she was crying, asking me why I had such high expectations for her. I told her that these were just the basic expectations for being a decent human being – we had not gotten to the high expectations yet. Ha!
But now I see her teaching these same values to her children. And she says she is grateful that I taught her how to be a good person.
So this made me think about all the ways I model values for other people. Am I modeling kindness, compassion, honesty, integrity, courage, responsibility, accountability, tenderness, trustworthiness, understanding? Not all the time, I’m sure. But now, with a new generation coming up in the family, I’m more aware that little eyes are watching, and little ears are listening. And I am more careful.
Her list was an assignment for class, but I think I’m the one who learned the lesson!
Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. ~James Baldwin