If you are a parent, guardian, teacher, mentor, elder, or have influence over a child in any way, “Do as I say, not as I do,” could be your mantra.
The old saying, “Monkey see, monkey do,” applies more to us humans, than we would like to admit. From a very young age, we learn to mimic what we see. Some studies done in the 70s and 80s, found that newborn babies imitate their parents when they stuck out their tongue. This caused a lot of excitement in the scientific community, the thought that we are ‘hardwired’ to mimic – suggesting it was likely a survival mechanism. However, a team of psychologists led by Janine Oostenbroek, later conducted other studies that disproved their findings. Their results showed that those early experiments were speculative at best. They noted that babies also stuck their tongues out when they heard music, saw an open mouth, or when shown an index finger.
In another study, conducted at the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology in Australia, the team discovered something interesting. After studying 106 new-borns and their parents, they discovered it was the parents that were mimicking the child. It turns out, when the baby sticks out their tongue, or opens their mouth, the parents respond by doing the same. In this way, it is the repetition of the action that is teaching the child.
Professional sales people use a form of mimicking to gain trust and likeability with potential clients. Called “mirroring,” by subtly imitating the other person’s gestures, body posture, facial expressions, tone of voice, or speed of delivery, a deeper social connection is formed. Scientists conducted experiments to test the effects of mirroring with 18 month old toddlers. Experimenters first spent some time mirroring some toddlers’ gestures, and others not. Later, they asked the toddlers for help with a toy. The toddlers that were mimicked, were more likely to assist.
We continue to mimic for the rest of our lives. Mimicking is a form of social-glue that binds us and helps us to connect more deeply with one another. It has helped humans learn and advance at a quicker rate, because we can learn by example. So, being able to mimic is not in our DNA, but it is our external environment that shapes how and what we learn.
What about all the mistakes and missteps we make, the bad habits we display, and the things we have done that we are less than proud of? We learn from each other, especially those we look up to, for how to conduct ourselves socially. Being an example to guide those that look to you for their cues, is a responsibility that can’t be neglected. That should extend to having the courage to talk about, and warn against, your past failures.
Being authentic can make you feel vulnerable. But it is by being vulnerable and able to admit your failures that makes you more believable and more human.
“Do as I say, not as I do,” is my first step in admitting my actions are not always clever. By being able to face up to the challenges where I have failed, and being open about the damaging results, I can be truthful and honest about how I made my way back.
These days, more often than not I can say,
“Do as I say, and as I do.”
* (Drop me a mail firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to hear from you.)
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