The Influence of Example
Essay # 1
- Two ways of teaching by example.
- Examples to be avoided.
- The commoner way is to teach by examples to be followed.
- Men are much more ready to imitate actions: than to be persuaded by words.
- Influence of historical and fictitious examples.
- The consideration of the influence of example is incentive to right conduct.
The influence of example exercises sometimes a repellent, sometimes, an attractive force. It is thus possible in two opposite ways to teach by example. We may bring before those whose character we wish to improve, either example for them to avoid, or examples for them to imitate.
The former was the method employed by the ancient Spartans, when they exhibited before their children the spectacle of a drunken Helot, so as to teach them the degrading effects of drunkenness. Horace, the Latin poet, tells us that this was the way in which his father taught him the excellence of virtue and the folly of vice. He was warned, for instance, against extravagance by being shown the miserable state to which that fault had reduced some well-known character of the day. His father found no difficulty in pointing out among the Romans of his time impressive examples of the evil consequences of each of the vices from which he wished to deter his son.
But the commoner way of teaching by example is by giving in one’s own conduct a good example for others to follow. As a rule, men are very like sheep and inclined to imitate the conduct of their friends and neighbours without considering whether the example is good or bad. It is on this account that example is better than precept, However, excellent may be the moral sentiments we enunciate, they are not likely to produce the least effect unless we are seen to carry them out in practice. Men are much more ready to imitate our actions than to be persuaded by our words, so that, if our words and actions disagree, the latter has far more influence than the former. It is the great power of example that makes the choice of friends and companions such an important matter. A young man who has imprudently made bad friends is likely to be led astray by their bad example, even though his reason slows him clearly the folly of their conduct.
Fortunately, a good example is just as powerful as a bad example in influencing conduct. Many have been inspired to noble deeds by reading the lives of great men in history and fiction. The specimens of Greek and Roman virtue given in Plutarch’s Lives have had a great influence on many generations of readers. Books like Smile’s Self-help and Character produce an excellent effect by giving striking examples of every kind of virtue and excellence from the lives of eminent men. Nor is the effect produced by the imaginary characters described by writers of fiction to be left out of consideration. Stories full of the exploits of brigands and murderers have been known to induce foolish boys to commence a life of crime. Other boys have been tempted to run away to sea by the stories they have read of the wonderful adventures of sailors in foreign lands. There is no doubt that the feeling of admiration for the gallery of noblemen and women depicted in Shakespeare’s plays and in the novels of Sir Walter Scott, has sunk deep into the heart of the English nation, and exercised a beneficial influence on the national character.
But, after all, living examples are more powerful for good or evil than those found in history and fiction. We ought, therefore, to be deterred from folly, not merely by its evil consequences to ourselves, but also by the consideration that, however, humble our position in life may be, the example given by our conduct is sure to exercise some influence on the lives of others. The knowledge of this fact is an incentive to right conduct that has great weight with all who have any care for the well-being of their fellow men.
The Influence of Example
Essay # 2
In teaching anything, an example is better than precept. The drill sergeant training raw recruits are not content with simply telling them what to do and how to do it; he does the different actions of their drill before them. They watch him as he “slopes arms”, “stand at attention”, salutes, makes the right turn, left turn, and round-about turn; and then they copy his movements until they can do them as smartly as he does.
In a time of war, it is the example of the officers that have more effect on the troops than any amount of commands, advice, or fine speeches. When the men see their officer marching with them, eating the same coarse rations, sharing their risks and discomforts, going bravely and cheerfully into the greatest dangers, and leading them with courage into battle, they are fired by his example and follow him willingly wherever he goes.
So in moral conduct, the example set by good men has more influence than grand sermons and good books. When we read that we ought, to be honest, industrious, truthful, brave, unselfish, and kind, we agree; but the good advice we read too often leaves us indifferent. It does not stir us to try to get all these for ourselves. But often the example of an honest, hardworking man fills us with the desire, to be honest, and to work hard ourselves; the story of a brave deed, makes us want to do brave deeds too; and the life of some kind and unselfish philanthropist shows us how selfish we are ourselves, and stirs us up to feel for others and do them good. The sight of one bearing pain and misfortune bravely makes us ashamed of our grumbling and complaining.
So it is well to study the biographies of good and great men, and to try to follow in their steps; and to strive also, in our turn, to set an example of character and conduct for others.
“Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Foot-prints on the sands of time.”