Follow the Leader, what a simple game that taught us some basic life tenents but was so fun you were not even aware you were learning the rules of being human. The fun came because you didn’t know what to expect and although you were imitating another, you remained an equal, not a subordinate to the leader. Following was fun, it taught inclusiveness, equality, adaptation and always provided laughter and excitement. And then you got a little older and personalities begun to diverge into different directions and inevitably someone in your group of peers would become the bossy one, the leader of the group. And Follow the Leader was no longer a game but something you did. Most days it would be a subconscious choice but on other days your “friend,” let’s call him Simon for simplicity sake, would tell you what to do. And you would find yourself not only playing at the game Simon Says but living it.
Following people, things and life, we all do it. We begin our mimicry from the moment we are born and in every moment of our life we do something we have picked up from seeing someone else do. That is not to say we are not individuals, each and every one of us is unique. There has never been anyone like each of us before and there will never be anyone like each of us in the future.
Mimicry is what builds community. People who are related exhibit the same behaviors. People who join the same fraternity exhibit like behaviors. People of one faith, one race, one tribe, one country, they all have commonality, a commonality that is created through mimicry and following a leader.
Yes, I have always been a follower, but to my children I am a leader and as such I must always be aware of my actions, words and deeds because what I do around them, in front of them, they are watching and recording as what it is to be an adult, a woman, a mother, a wife, etc. It is our repeated actions or lack of action over their lifetimes that become ingrained in their little souls, not our words.
So next time you decide to light a cigarette, text and drive, drink and drive, do drugs, disrespect your partner, get in a physical fight, buy scratch tickets, utter bad words… whatever you are doing, remember, little eyes are watching you and they will emulate you in their own behaviors. They will try them on to see how they fit, how they feel. Would you rather teach your children to be destructive to themselves and others, to do things that will harm their relationships or even endanger their lives or would you rather teach them how wonderful it is to give, to provide, to care for and to live happy, fulfilling, independent lives? Because the latter, that is what being successful is.
We all want our children to have better lives than we ourselves have had, but we teach them to travel down the same roads we have followed, to make the same mistakes we make. Let’s stop doing this now. Let’s make a commitment to our children to do the best for ourselves and be the best we can possibly be so that they too can be the best possible version of themselves.*
Follow People, Things and Life, but make the choices that best reflect who you want to be and who you want your children to be!
By making yourself stronger, you will make your family stronger. Your family is a small community that is part of many rings of community. By taking action within yourself, you can change the world!
*It is never too late to change your actions. In fact, if you are the parents of older children they already know what you are doing wrong, but they will still pick up your habits. Changing your bad behaviors at this age teaches them that they also have the ability to change the course their life is taking, fix the wrongs they may commit, be a success after they have failed. So please, make the change, for your children’s sake.
Addendum: After I wrote this I witnessed a child, no more than twelve, probably closer to eleven or maybe even ten, sitting on a curb of the Albertson’s grocery chain parking lot. He was sitting there alone and holding a sign: “Anything helps.” I was in a hurry and did not stop to talk with him although normally I would have. Instead I drove on to my destination thinking about his cardboard sign and thinking about how likely it was that his parent or parents were most likely stationed at other corners with their signs… or worse yet, perhaps they were at home watching television while their sympathetic-looking youngster asks for the handouts.
I thought to myself, what kind of parents are these that would not only expose their child to the stigma of panhandling, but pimp him to do it for them? Was I being cynical, well, yes I was, but really, the sign said, “Anything helps.” And I could not help but think that anything helps aside from teaching your children to do nothing, strive for nothing, be nothing.
What kind of future does this child have? I see poverty. I see hunger. I see homelessness. There is a possibility of drugs, cigarettes or alcohol in this boy’s future. And this future scenario is not about the boy’s personal capabilities, it is about what he is being taught… he is following a leader, just as we all do. He is doing as his elder family members do. He is asking for a handout. He does not know that he can reach beyond the level they have delivered him into. The scene made me feel sad, quiet, contemplative and angry.
I really wish I’d had the time to stop and talk with him. I wouldn’t have given him a handout as I don’t think that would help him whatsoever. But a little friendly conversation would certainly stave off the boredom he must have been feeling as well as bringing a little cheer to his day. Children need to run and bike, climb, play, laugh and, above all else, have fun! It is not their responsibility to bring home the bacon or fry it up in a pan. It is their responsibility to be alive, to be free of burden; the responsibilities will come fast enough. Let them learn the hard knocks when they are older, don’t force the stresses and hard times we as adults must claim responsibility for.