When it comes to finding good models, a better question than “What would Jesus do?” is this: “What DID Jesus do?” Actions are more powerful than words or ideals. Truth be told, I included Jesus in the title to grab your attention. So this is not a christian/ non-christian belief. I think it’s invaluable for kids to have people in their everyday lives who model integrity and courage.
In a classic experiment on generosity, elementary and middle school aged children were shown to exhibit more generous behavior after watching a teacher play the game charitably vs. selfishly. An added factor was the teacher preaching to them the value of taking, giving, or neither. The students who observed the selfish teacher gave fewer tokens whether the teacher advocated selfish or generous action. At a two-month follow-up, the most generous kids were the ones who had observed the generous teacher who didn’t say anything. Actions, as they say, did speak louder than words.
Positive role models are all around us. The recently deceased John McCain refused to use his status as a four-star admiral’s son to leave his Vietnamese prison camp early because he wanted to be there to support his fellow soldiers. Instead of a one-year imprisonment, he was tortured there for over five years. As a young girl, Malala Yousafai defied the Taliban in Pakistan and demanded that girls be allowed to receive an education. She was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012 but survived and continued to speak out on the importance of education. In 2013, she gave a speech to the United nations and published her first book, I Am Malala. In 2014, at the age of 17, she became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Princess Diana broke through the world’s fears about people with AIDS in 1987 when she courageously shook a patient’s hand without a gown or gloves. The public was terrified of AIDS patients at the time, so her action helped the world see these patients in a different light. It was a moment of grace, revealing the depth of her compassion.
Focus conversations on what DID John McCain, Malala, and Princess Diana do. Introduce kids to role models like Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird, Hermione from the Harry Potter books, or historical figures like Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Closer to home, what are your children learning from how you, mom and dad, treat each other, relate with friends, take care of yourself, and live your life. Be mindful of how your actions are demonstrating integrity, fairness, justice, kindness, compassion, courage, strength, vulnerability, and most of all love.