The Power of Example

We influence people more than we think. When I was about eleven, Mr. Goode, a composer, visited us and played a Chopin etude on my piano. I soaked up every note and his style. After my piano teacher assigned me that piece, I played it for her just as Mr. Goode did, imitating his crescendos and retards. When I finished, my teacher said, “Ah, that was beautiful. Ask your parents if you can start going to the Cleveland Institute of Music.” My mother and I decided no. But I didn’t have to tell my teacher because at my next lesson I played like I usually did, and she never brought it up!

Just as Mr. Goode made an impression on me, we are constantly affecting others for good or evil. There is a tendency within us to imitate. I guess it is something we have in common with other primates: “Monkey see, monkey do.” Think of a crisis when everyone is frozen and then one person starts acting. Everyone follows suit. Think of a mob that acts as one. Think of our desire to wear the current fashions like everyone else. This is why we are encouraged to learn about the lives of the saints. Their heroic virtues inspire us to live the same way. The same thing happens when I watch the Olympics. Those athletes who strive with all their might to achieve the perfect tens motivate me to be the best I can be. Although I never could do a cartwheel, still I can work to make the most of my writing gift.

We can be models for others. The most persuasive tool we have for bringing others to God is our own life. When people see us endure suffering without complaint because of our faith, when they see us donating time and money to help the needy, when they see us going to church and praying, they just might be drawn to imitate us. This is the principle behind St. Francis of Assisi’s oft-quoted words to his men as he sent them into a town: “Preach, and if necessary use words.”

When has someone been a model leading you to improve your life?

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