Precepts and Examples

“Precept is instruction written in the sand, the tide flows over it, and the record is gone. An example is graven on the rock, and the lesson is not soon lost.”

William Ellery Channing, the early nineteenth-century American preacher, gave us this profound statement on the validity of precepts that carry no meaning in the present-day society. Let us first see how the English Dictionary explains a ‘precept:’

Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

"A command or principle intended especially as a general rule of action. An order issued by the legally constituted authority to a subordinate official."

Oxford Dictionary: "A general rule intended to regulate behavior or thought: ‘The legal precept of being innocent until proven guilty’ (mass noun ‘children learn far more by example than by precept’) A writ or warrant: ‘The Commissioner issued precepts requiring the companies to provide information.’ An order issued by one local authority to another specifying the rate of tax to be charged on its behalf: ‘The precept required a supplementary rate of 6.1p in the pound.’

Collins Dictionary a rule or principle for action a guide or rule for morals; maxim a direction, esp for a technical operation

Given the above interpretations of ‘precepts,’ we should be well-versed with desirable human behavior concerning each other, at the very minimum. Dealings among various levels of government as well as laws of governance also come under the purview of precepts of jurisprudence.

What boggles my imagination, (and I am sure many of my readers would also feel the same way,) is the fact how rampantly we see these concepts overlooked by those supposed to be the watch and ward of the same. The most frequently noticed, intentional oversight comes in the shape of the rising incidents of brutal, almost barbaric actions of our law-enforcement agencies, especially in the U.S.

Continued police brutality, especially against the minorities and those of color, goes unabated. The most shocking supporter of such frequently repeated incidents is none other than the law itself that is supposed to provide assistance and protection. ‘The legal precept of being innocent until proven guilty’ has lost its relevance.

Considering the starting quote as the basis for this article, we find repeat high-tides making a comeback in their efforts to make sure not a vestige of such precepts survives any longer. Tragic and yet truthful, it sends jitters down my spine to see such acts of evil, almost amounting to turpitude.

Have we lost the courage to voice our concerns? Are we so docile to silently bear any injustice? Can the society continue to flourish like this? Are we waiting for the Messiah to appear? What leads us to surrender so easily?

While you look for the answers and gather enough courage to make a concerted effort to fight against this scourge, let me address the immense potential of example, an excellent example!

“Example is always more efficacious than precept,” said Samuel Johnson, the 18th-century English writer, described by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as “arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history.”

Peering into more recent times, we find the strength of example so well exemplified in the words of Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965,) the French-German writer, philosopher, and physician: “Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.”

Unfortunately, a few stinky models tend to appear in our life when least expected. In the event you tend to have a different opinion, please consider the following German Proverb: “An example from the monkey: the higher it climbs, the more you see of its behind.” Do we need such examples? I don’t think so!

An invariably large number of our predecessors, the majority of them ultra-successful, have blessed us with examples relating to specific situations, challenges, and inner turmoil. Most of the genuinely imposing personalities that engraved their names on the rocks of history also gave us some of the most effective examples to help us achieve success.

Reading their life-history, we come to know how these leaders survived unimaginably harsh childhood. They not only overcame their personal, bone-chilling challenges, but also gave us numerous means for making our life, and that of our future generations, much more enjoyable.

Here, I would like to share with my keen, and discerning readers a quote I learned quite a while ago: “A leader leads by example, whether he intends to or not.” Unfortunately, I do not remember the name of its author. However, I can vouch for the message that forewarns us against the non-leaders through generations, that we have seen in disgracefully large numbers.

I am sure nobody would like to follow the likes of Idi Amin of Uganda, one despotic dictator, widely known as a cannibal that used to butcher prisoners to satisfy his taste for human flesh. Who would want to see another example of the unmentionable and the most wanted terrorist that ever walked the face of the earth (followed by crowds of his evil-minded supporters,) or the most hated Nazi leader that caused untold misery on an innocent community for entirely no fault of its own?

We need examples of good governance, outstanding courage in the face of calamity/catastrophe, exceptional leadership that brings improvements to the lives of billions roaming this earth.

We can use the examples of innovators par excellence, ready to exploit all their imaginative faculties to help us shoulder the mounting swirl of oncoming changes due to the fast unfolding Industrial Revolution 4.0

Let us create a new definition of the word ‘precept,’ that coincides with the tremendous value inherent in the great examples of outstanding leadership across the board!

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