One aspect of family life that never fails to astonish me is that, good or bad, parents teach more by example than by word. No matter what I say to my children, they are more quick to absorb my meaning through my actions.
Nowhere is this more true than in the case of civility, kindness, compassion and love toward others. I can preach about how we are called to treat people. I can read Bible verses aloud to them. I can tell them, over and over, not to call people names or assume the worst about anyone. But, unless I am very careful to live out my own words, I might as well save my breath.
We live in a world that often is suspicious and intolerant of anyone who is outside the norm. This results in hateful behavior, bullying and even violence. As a parent, I have to look at my own actions to be certain that I am not perpetuating intolerance. How do I respond to someone who looks different than me, holds beliefs that are different than mine or makes choices that are different from those I would make? If I am judgmental or condescending or fearful in my attitudes and actions toward others, the difference between my words and my actions will be profoundly clear to my children.
During discussions around the dinner table, topics of current affairs often arise. The way John and I choose to engage in these conversations is vitally important. Our children live in a diverse, multicultural, multifaith world, and we can not belittle or undermine the people around us. I believe that our primary call is to love — to love God and to love our neighbor. If I want to pass that belief on to my children, I must keep careful watch over the way I speak about and treat all of the people around me.