Character Building - Imitation And Emulation
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
PROBABLY the first act of the infant not wholly instinctive is imitative. At first it seems involuntary, like our disposition to yawn when we see another yawning, but later, as it sees more distinctly, and gets stronger, it tries to copy the actions of others; and by this road learns to do, one by one, the little acts of its daily life. So it begins its education-selfteaching. Soon it advances to the point where it shows that it takes pleasure in its attempts at imitation, and begins to try to do what it notices others doing, just to see whether it can. Imitation next rises from mere material things to manners, speech, and ideas. The faculty varies, of course, with the children, but in all it is the essential factor in early education, and one which should be carefully heeded. Observe that children brought up in a group of brothers and sisters are as a rule quicker and less troublesome than those alone in the family; and that a school is in general better for a youngster than a private tutor. Children learn from the people around them more than from books. Hence the need of guarding against those "evil communications which corrupt good manners." The responsibility this places upon the parent is plain to be seen. It is of the utmost importance that the speech, the manners, the kindness, the personal and home-virtues generally, from which the child gets its first impressions and earliest habits, shall be of the best: in short, that the models it imitates so closely and indiscriminately shall be good.
Fortunate, indeed, is the child whose parents do the right things before it, and offer examples that are worthy of emulation. Next in importance are the characters set before them in books. The world's greatest and noblest experiences have been pre-served to us in our best literature. Read to your children the accounts of the lives of the men and women you wish them to emulate. This will do more for them than all the sermons you can preach or the moral advice you can give. Plant in the hearts of the children the desire to be like the good and great, and encourage them daily with the thought that they are going to be good and great, and they will "arrive" in time.
In literature as in life children will find good examples to follow and evil ones to shun. It is an excellent plan for them after reading a story or poem, to tell what impressed them as worthy of emulation. Parents should utilize the references in this volume under the quality they desire to develop in their children-" Courage," "Ambition," "Generosity," etc., etc. Perhaps special attention might be given the talk on "Friendship." Senseless imitation may be found in "The Vain Jackdaw," "The Mouse and the Sausage," and "The Ass and the Watchdog" in Volume I, and a clever mimic is "The Pet Star-ling," Volume IV. That volume also contains Dr. Hale's entertaining tale, "My Double and How He Undid Me."