Example or Warning – Which Are You?

Does the way you live matter?  There’s an old adage that says that as long as I’m not hurting anyone else, the way I live is my business.  I disagree.  Unless a person is living on a remote island by themselves, the way they live impacts others.  We are all either an “Example” or a “Warning”.

Think for a moment about the people closest to you…friends, family, co-workers, etc.  As you mentally sift through those relationships, I suspect you can pretty quickly categorize them into either the Example column or the Warning column.  Ironically enough, both are valuable.  The Examples are obviously people we want to learn from and emulate and the Warnings are those we want to learn what NOT to do.

It’s easy to criticize sports heroes and celebrities for being Warnings of what NOT to do.  Due to their celebrity status, they have the ability to reach many more as either a Shining Example or Horrific Warning.  But let’s step back and dial it in a little closer to home.  Just because our reach is not as wide as that of a celebrity, do we have any less responsibility to be a positive Example to the world?

As the parent of 2 teenage daughters and 1 teenage stepson (pray for me),  it’s become painfully clear that I have been both the Example and the Warning.  If you’re a parent and want to know if you are an Example or a Warning, just study your children and that truth will smack you right between the eyes!  In the extreme, it’s so sad to see parents with significant behavioral issues (lying, drug use, cheating, etc.) that don’t understand why their child is also a chronic liar, drug user, and cheater.

But what if you are single and don’t have children?  Do you have friends?  How about co-workers?  Perhaps you manage people?  Siblings?  Parents?  The point is we are all influencing others on a daily basis by the way we live our lives.  If you could step out of your body and view your life for a day from the outside, would you be an Example or a Warning?  Would you want to be your friend?

In his wonderful book, “Integrity”, Dr. Henry Cloud states that, just like a boat, we all leave a wake in our path.  The question is, what kind of wake are we leaving?  Is it something of use and of beauty that leaves the world a better place?  As others view your wake do they admire and respect the path you are leaving behind?  Or is your wake ugly and destructive and a dire warning to the world around you?  From my observation, we are both Examples and Warnings at various times throughout our lives.

Here are a few ways I’ve learned to get better at being an Example instead of a Warning:

  • Journal and reflect on each day. Honestly assess how you lived your life that day.
  • Ask! If you are fortunate enough to have friends that will give you the hard truth, ask them.  Ask your spouse or significant other.
  • If you lead or manage others, provide them the opportunity to give feedback anonymously.
  • Spend time in prayer asking God to show you areas of your life that.
  • Forgive yourself when you fail and are a Warning instead of an Example. Commit to doing better the next day.
  • Notice if there are trends or areas of continuous challenges and seek professional help.

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