The power of observation

A powerful yet simple truth is that we learn quite a lot from observation. I’ve been thinking about that this morning, and recalling incidents in which I developed and changed over my lifetime as a result of watching others. I can recall, for example, the great power of observing my grandma kneeling at her bedside, praying. I didn’t see a lot of personal prayer time and Bible reading from my own parents (not that they didn’t do those things), and I’ve recently realized how much that impacted me when I became aware that I, too, have not demonstrated the value of those things to my own children. I tend to keep my prayer time and Bible reading very private, to myself. These are just a few examples that come to mind.

My immediate family was and is my most prominent subject for observation, and I suppose that is only natural. The ritual of making and drinking coffee is a good example of this. My parents were big coffee drinkers, and eventually we all as their children followed suit. I can recall my own children, even when they were little, wanting to drink coffee, and I think this was due in part to their observation of my wife and me as we drank our coffee every day. A more negative example is watching my father’s behavior when drinking alcohol and what that taught me about the horrors of alcoholism. To this day, I have a great fear that I’ll somehow turn out like my father.

Another aspect of this thought is the frequently used phrase that life is “caught rather than taught.” I noticed, especially during my growing up years, how different what is taught can be from what is actually done, what is observed, what is “caught.” The dichotomy between what is supposed to be and what actually is can make one pretty cynical. You tend then to be rather critical. You are reluctant to give in to belief in something or someone. I think this is largely why or how I lost the carefree, optimistic attitude of my youth.

Bottom line: live your life with the realization that others are watching. How you behave and what you do or don’t do may be a bigger influence than you think. This is not to make us paranoid and worried, like Wazowski in Monsters, Inc. (Remember the iconic line from that female creature in Monsters, Inc. who observed in her brazen accent that “I’m watching you Wazowski, always watching…”?) Recognize that what we believe is played out in what we do or don’t do in clearer ways than any lecture or moral stance can convey.

This in turn reminds me of Jesus’ words to his disciples:

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:35 (NIV)

There is hardly a more important and convicting statement than that, especially in our present times.

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