We humans spend a lot of time watching what others do. This process of people-watching begins near birth when babies watch the humans around them and mimic their actions, sounds, and more. All the keepers of little ones are nodding their heads in agreement right now. Parents can’t even breathe without their kids taking note.
Leadership is also a construct of pretty much every human culture. We hold our teachers, experts, and elders high, looking for them to possess laser-focus knowledge and skills on their specific topics. What an incredible–not to mention lifesaving, at times–mechanism this is, that we have our pilots to fly airplanes, orthodontists to straighten teeth, and building engineers to design skyscrapers.
And it’s also a concept impressed upon us by mass media and brands as they try to convince us that we need what they offer. They try to teach us one’s own self cannot possibly be fashioned from within, that we must do, look, and simply be like something or someone else.
Everyone is watching someone. More realistically, everyone is watching many people.
This watch-learn way has its upsides and downsides, and both are already obvious. The greatest upside is that there are experts out there who can help guide the rest of us down a better path. The expertise of a few can become the shared bounty of many. Downside, what happens when we somehow find our eyes cast upon a person from whom we shouldn’t be learning? Then we end up learning the wrong thing, and human society has plentiful examples of this.
As kids, my brother and I managed to make some decent mischief. When caught–because we were always caught–our parents would talk us through the problem. I can remember them asking where we learned how to create such trouble. Once in a great while, we’d triumphantly get to explain that we’d imagined it up all on our own. But more often than not we’d say that we’d learned it from the TV, the older neighbor kids, and, occasionally, even them. I can remember my dad’s response when caught in this act of accidentally influencing his kids to be naughty, “Do as I say, not as I do.” It didn’t make sense to me back then, either, and that’s because it was a joke. Like it or not, there is no escaping this mechanism of learning. Franky, I love it, as long as we humans can understand its power–and its limitations.
So, I ask us all to do this: Become a mirror of what you want to see in the world. This idea isn’t my own, of course. How fitting for this conversation. Indian social activist Mahatma Ghandi said, “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.”
Thus, the great and at times heartbreaking inevitability of our humanity is that many people are watching and learning from others right now. When we are correct and incorrect, and in our best moments and worst, at least some eyes are not only on us but also learning from us. What can we teach through our actions today?
Call for Comments
- How often do you find yourself doing or being something you don’t care for in others?
- Have you been caught by your kid in the act of doing something you don’t want them to do?
- What’s one thing you’d like to mirror into the world today?