We are creatures of habit. A surfeit of research devoted to decoding habit-formation indicates the stark truth of it. The advantage of habits is the freedom to make better-informed or more creative decisions, free from the need to select for routine daily actions. The disadvantages are copious and varied, but a couple of prominent ones occur as some habits, when first begun may have seemed innocuous but drive the routine whereby tamping thoughtful reflection and the possibility for considering how it affects the lives with whom one engages. This is why it is so important to maintain as habit a set time of reflection; there are some habits worth having.
Recently, Howie and I were discussing one of the benefits of taking young people on trips and retreats. It is a concentrated time together to focus on a cooperative goal, but it is also opportunity for youth to observe their leaders’ behaviors (the intentional ones and the reflexive). I just finished reading Orson Scott Card’s The Gate Thief. In it the hero, Danny, is welcoming a friend into his home by placing his hand on her back and directing her into the living room. The friend reacts negatively, but there is more to her story in the book. What is curious to Danny is why he did so. He is more of a loner and not given to be nurturing or “touch-y.” Upon reflection, he recalls that while living with an older couple that raised him through much of his teen years, he noticed the father (to him) would naturally welcome guests into their home in just this way. It was something Danny never had opportunity to do before, but observing this behavior as something that a kind, welcoming person would do, it was already natural for Danny to carry out.
Of course, this is something I have noticed with my children often (and sometimes with horror)—one would do something in public I’ve never seen her do but is exactly something that I do, or say something he never uttered at home but Howie says—frequently. . . . Still, it is increasingly common that what is reflected in speech or action mimics what is observed during the countless hours using technological devices. It seems there is a paucity of electronic device-free time with healthy, nurturing, loving mentors and leaders for our young people. To be sure, there are a number of productive, useful ways to engage others using this same technology. But, the point is for those who can and do have influence on youth (or anyone, really), to be people of restraint; to make a habit of being quiet, reflecting ways to be the kind of formative example to those developing their own habits. We are always being observed. My sister-in-law wrote a beautiful reflection of a perfect example here. So, now, I am convicted by the question, What habits do I have that are being assumed by those observing me? And, is this a good thing?