Example-Better than Precept
In every sphere, “Example is better than precept.” It is far more effective to show a learner how to do anything by doing it oneself correctly than merely to tell him what to do
In learning a game, it is not of much use to read books on it, however correct and sound, or to listen to someone explaining the rules and methods. One learns far more by watching an expert at tennis or cricket than from any amount of description.
So in crafts, technical education is not picked up from books. The learner must go into the carpentry shop, the Smithy, the engineer’s work-room or the mill, and watch and copy the trained workmen as they actually do their tasks.
In schools, too, the teacher does not merely tell the pupil how to write, read and do sums. He shows him how to do it by doing it before his eyes himself. The child watches the teacher write and form the letters, hears him read a passage as it should be read, and sees him do a sum. He learns more from practical examples than from theoretical teaching
But it is in the moral sphere that it is especially true that example has far more power and influence than precept, both for good and evil. Take the training of children by their parents. Children are very observant and are keen critics. They notice very quickly whether their father does himself what he preaches. He teaches them that it is wrong to tell lies, but if he is not truthful, his teaching will have little effect. Children are great imitators; they will copy their parents. If the parents are really honest, truthful, kind, and unselfish, or if they are dishonest, selfish, and harsh, the children will imitate them. To set children a good example is far more important than teaching them any number of good moral maxims, and a bad example will do far more harm than any amount of good teaching will do good.
Anyone who sets himself up as a teacher of morality must see to it that he does not undo all the good his teaching might affect, by a bad example. He must practice what he preaches, or his teaching will do more harm than good. He must follow the example of the village preacher in Oliver Goldsmith’s poem:
“He tried each art, reproved each dull delay, Allured to brighter worlds, and led the way.”