Seeing Is Believing

by Ron Samul

When I was a kid, my dad and I were in the supermarket. A woman tripped over a cord in the frozen food section and hit her head on the freezer case. My father quickly ran to her and helped. He was a trained Vietnam medic, EMT, and firefighter. It was a given that he would help. As I watched the woman recover and the staff come out to help, I went over and did my part. I moved the cord so more people wouldn’t trip over it. Why did I do that? What was happening that empowered me to take action? When I saw my father helping someone, I wanted to help too. While I couldn’t offer medical assistance, I could go to the root of the issue, and help prevent this from happening again. The reason that I was empowered was because I had witnessed someone else acting. The fact that this story is still in my working memory proves that watching someone inspires action from others.

This week (4/14) in the New York Times Sunday Review, there was an article titled Raising A Moral Child by Adam Grant. In this article, he poses that we need to empower our children and allow them to act. But how do we do it? In the cited study and narrative, he concludes a fascinating fact: action speak louder than anything else.

“The most generous children were those who watched the teacher give but not say anything. Two months later, these children were 31 percent more generous than those who observed the same behavior but also heard it preached. The message from this research is loud and clear: If you don’t model generosity, preaching it may not help in the short run, and in the long run, preaching is less effective than giving while saying nothing at all.”

It seems that what my father did, and what this study concludes is that seeing actions, inspires others to action. What is really interesting is that he suggests that “in the long run, preaching is less effective than giving while saying nothing at all.” It seems counterintuitive to think that my father didn’t sit down with me and turn this moment into a life lesson as to why he helped this woman. His actions has already empowered me. In fact, in context to the article, I was more likely to give my help because he didn’t preach to me his intent and purpose. What he did was notice that I helped by moving the cords, and told my mother how I had helped.

It is a tricky world of empowering children, giving them

a sense of purpose, and shaping them into caring, empathetic people. However, sometimes telling or “preaching” a value will not help someone understand. They simply have to see it. A picture, in this case, could be worth a thousand words.

Awhile back, my step-daughter was in the hospital for a nasty bloody nose. While waiting, I was outside and noticed a man helping someone from a van into a wheelchair. Moving this person from the car to a wheelchair was tricky for one person. I quickly rushed over and offered some help, stabilizing the wheelchair and helping get the person seated. It took less than a minute, and they were very kind in their thanks. Once they were inside, my step-daughter said, “You like to help people, don’t you.” I just nodded.

Ron Samul is an educator and writer living in New England.

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