Dorothy Law Nolte has famously written, “Children Learn What they Live!” Among other things she says,
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
And so it is true that children learn what they live. But it is also equally true that children live what they learn.
Much attention has been paid to different theories of learning behavior in infancy. Maturational changes in the sensory, motor, and cognitive system, trial and error learning, independent invention and discovery, and imitative learning are among the leading theories.
It is on imitative learning that I will focus today. In his book – “Born to Learn: What Infants Learn from Watching Us” – Dr. ANDREW N MELTZOFF argues that enough attention has not been placed on the role of imitation in learning. He proves conclusively through a series of controlled, double-blind experiments that children at an early age will imitate almost anyone with whom they come into prolonged contact.
Sub-consciously, in our early development we are heavily influenced by those persons in our lives to whom we attach significant importance. A baby born to Chinese parents will speak perfect Spanish and no Mandarin, if adopted at birth by Spaniards and taken to live in Spain.
As we grow older, the influence by example becomes less automatic and more selective, as we consciously evaluate examples and choose which to follow. But by that time, much of our character has already been formed, and influenced by the examples in our lives.
But the flip-side of the coin is also true. Others are influenced by the examples we set.
The conscious or sub-conscious action of others to imitate us is influenced by their admiration for us. Usually, this admiration is rooted in their perception of our success. Music icons, sports legends, body-building gurus, popular politicians, the rich and generous, and divas of beauty are among the celebrity clique that command the admiration of millions.
You may or may not be in that class. But on a descending scale of popular relevance, there is something about you that will attract the admiration of at least one person. That person will consciously or unconsciously try to imitate you in one or more ways.
Isn’t it inspiring to know that you can positively influence the lives of those around you, and especially those who attach special significance to you? By setting a good example, you not only improve the quality of your own life, but you also help to create positive values, attributes and attitudes in others. For good or bad, we create by example.