We’ve often heard the truism: actions speak louder than words.
I would add, however, that the next best thing after observing real life examples – whether of greatness for inspiration or infamy as a caution – is to read about them. This is one of the best reasons, apart from sheer enjoyment, for reading good biographies. But don’t take it from me. See what Eric Metaxas, who gave us the excellent and widely acclaimed biographies of William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, has to say in his recent and terrific Seven Men: And the Secret of their Greatness (Thomas Nelson, 2013):
“You can talk about right and wrong and good and bad all day long, but ultimately people need to see it. Seeing and studying the actual lives of people is simply the best way to communicate ideas about how to behave and how not to behave. We need heroes and role models” (xiv).