Several months ago I participated in an activity that powerfully taught me the importance of being an example. My youth group put on an “Etiquette Dinner” evening.
The purpose of the event was to learn table manners and customs in a fun way. Prior to the evening, a boy and myself were asked to do everything wrong during the meal as an example of what not to do.
Excited for our secret mission, we immediately started doing everything we could to subtly go against what would be considered proper and polite. For starters, when everyone else showed up in dress clothes, we wore sweats and looked purposefully grungy.
Seated at a table with other teens, we got right to work. Our peers were not informed of our secret mission, but we were sure they would figure it out quickly. Waiting for our food, we started stacking the plastic cups from the table and made an impressively tall pyramid. The other kids were in awe at our creation. We continued and made a contraption of utensils to fling forks across the table. Quite purposely, our behavior was as obnoxious as we could make it.
To my surprise, instead of correcting us, those around us joined in with our behavior! We were having so much fun stacking cups and flinging forks, and others could tell. Unrelenting in our rudeness, we even carved a bunny in the butter. Those around us continued to follow our example, especially those a few years younger than us. I leaned over and tried to tell them not to, but they wouldn’t listen to me!
They laughed and would not take my advice seriously. I could tell that they refused to listen to my urging to be polite because it was hypocritical and exactly the opposite of my actions. When our food came to the table, the adults of the event announced that my counterpart and I were acting and providing a contrast to polite table manners.
They announced that we would continue to act and that others should note what we were doing wrong. We kept up our act and I even put my feet on the table during dinner! When we started making bird whistle noises, I was surprised to hear replies of whistles from the other side of the room.
Halfway through dinner, a student a few years younger than me turned on some music from her phone. A song came on that wasn’t appropriate, so I nicely asked her to skip it. Though this amiable girl would have usually listened to me, she shrugged me off and played the rest of the song.
This moment made me question why she did not listen to my request. It was a sad moment when I realized that I had lost all influence for good through my bad example. Though pretending to be rowdy was fun, afterwards I felt awful and I strengthened my resolve to be an example of what is right.
I learned that others will follow your example, even when they know it’s wrong. Sometimes wrong looks like fun, but it is fun that does not last. Others will only listen to your words if they are mirrored by your actions. An example is a powerful influence and “what we are says much more than what we say.”