Do you remember, the following puzzle put to you when you were young? : “what is that which everybody likes to give but nobody wants to take?” the answer is, of course, ‘Advice’. People like to advise and instruct others. They give advice to others day in and day out – unasked, unsolicited, uncalled for. Most elders are very fond of giving advice to youngsters. Parents are never tired of exhorting their children to work hard, to shun bad habits, to keep away from bad truthful and so on. Thereby they expect their young charges to be models of virtue. So they get angry when they find the children turning a deaf ear to their preaching.
Does it mean that children do not respect their parents and elders? Not in the least. It is because those who preach and advise don’t realize that human behavior cannot be changed through instructions and advice. Precept is usually unpalatable, direct advice and instruction and advice. Precept is usually unpalatable, direct advice and instruction unpleasant. If it were possible to change human behavior by preaching, this world would have been a veritable heaven by now, for from time immemorial saints, sages, priests, holy-men and learned men have been exhorting people to be good, honest and truthful.
Children are keen observers. Even though the elders do not know it. Children are all the while observing their behavior. They are aware of the fulf between the adults’ speech and their actual behavior, between their words and deeds, between their preaching and practice. How then can their words be expected to carry weight?
Naturally therefore they do not pay enough heed to the elders’ advice and instructions. By preaching things which they don’t practice the elders only expose themselves as hypocrites and humbugs and at best succeed in teaching youngsters a lesson in hypocrisy.
The best way to teach is not to preach but to set an example by actual doing. This is because human beings and especially children, are imitative by nature. Instinctively they copy, imitate and emulate. In fact the instinct to copy is very powerful in human beings. We should make the fullest use of this instinct to teach children what we want them to learn. If a father wants his child to give up smoking, he should first give it up himself. If parents want their children to pick up good manners, they should themselves be models of good behavior. In short, we should ourselves do what we want others to do. This is because example is better than precept, deeds are more powerful than words, practice is more persuasive than preaching. An ounce of practice weighs more than a ton of precept.