My youngest child has these deep blue eyes. If you tell him something that attracts his attention, he’ll stop and look at you with those piercing blue eyes for a moment, as though he’s trying to make up his mind whether or not you’re telling him something of real value.
Every day, his eyes are on me. Along with his two older siblings and his mother, I’m one of the people that he’s constantly using as a role model for figuring out the world.
If he sees me enjoying tomatoes, he’s willing to give them a try.
If he sees me brushing my teeth, he’ll head to the other bathroom to retrieve his own toothbrush.
If he sees me shaving, he’s ready to slap some shaving cream on his cheeks.
His idea of good behavior is coming, in large part, from me.
John Wooden, the great UCLA basketball coach and one of my personal heroes, once said, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
It can be easy for me to try to behave well when my little blue-eyed boy is around. I can try to act like a good role model when he’s around. I can think more deliberately about my action when he’s watching me.
Children are too smart for that, though. They see the character behind the curtain. I certainly remember realizing that there were people who would do one thing when eyes were on them and then do another when no one else was around, and I was smart enough to know that the things they did when no one was around was the true reflection of who they were.
It’s not enough to behave well when my child is watching. I must have the character from which good behavior comes naturally.
For example, the best way to show my child that you can have a lot of fun at home with whatever you have on hand is to have a lot of fun at home with whatever you have on hand.
If I want my child to see that adults read books and discuss ideas, the best way to do that is to normally read books and discuss ideas as part of my life.
If I want my child to see that life doesn’t revolve around spending money and you don’t have to throw out cash in order to enjoy life, the best way to do that is to live a life where that’s the normal course of events and not a special “money free weekend.”
If it’s an act, it doesn’t work.
Few things are harder than working on who you are and striving to improve it. People are creatures of habit and impulse. It is extremely difficult to change those fundamental things.
In some ways, I’m lucky. When I want to push myself to change things about who I am, I simply have to think about those big blue eyes that are watching me all the time. That’s a pretty strong motivator.
Couple that motivation with a strong sense of what better choices are and soon I’ll end up changing who I am. Those better choices come naturally if they’re repeated enough.
The things we want to change seem very hard at times. Through the eyes of a child, though, they’re not difficult at all. If you work on just changing who you are a little bit, you no longer have to face the difficult decision to not spend money or to not smoke or to not curse over and over again throughout the day.
In the eyes of a child, character trumps everything else. Work on your character and your habits follow.