5 Ways to Walk Your Talk
“If you don’t set a baseline standard for what you’ll accept in your life, you’ll find it easy to slip into a quality of life that’s far below what you deserve.”
She stood on the other side of the door, shifting her feet, coughing delicately into her hand, unable to meet our eyes. We beat our mother to the door to greet her. My sisters, one four, the other two, and myself seven, each in pigtails and pajamas. Lying near our visitor’s feet was a Christmas tree, remnants of green and gold garlands still entangled in its branches. It was two days after Christmas, and the tree that was promised to us finally arrived.
We thanked the lady from the church. Her mouth kept closing and opening but no words came out. By now, Mair, our mother has come to the door and was standing behind us. Seeing her, the lady suddenly found her tongue and launched into a long explanation that rang hollow and that embarrassed both of them.
The tree was very important, you see. We thought it was the reason why Santa didn’t pay us a visit. We didn’t have the tree for him to put presents under. We waited up for him though, hoping late into the night until sleep overtook us. In the morning, we dealt with our disappointments as refugee children have learned to do, with stoicism.
After she left, my father hauled the tree back outside and tossed it into the dumpster. That was our first Christmas in America.
Something shifted in me that day. More than experiencing a child’s disappointment was a bit of faith lost, a trust misplaced. All because someone failed to walk her talk. But was I wrong to place such high standards on another?
A recent Facebook post by Author Elizabeth Gilbert made me revisit this question. Gilbert posted about her detractors who were trying to hold her to a certain standard. Dropping F-bombs and cracking drinking jokes appeared too pedestrian for them to reconcile against the image they have of her as a spiritual person. But doing so is what makes her real and what makes her so human and relatable to many others like myself.
Despite how on point Gilbert’s post was in trying to dispel misperceptions, rightly or wrongly, we do set up expectations on how people are supposed to behave. In order to make sense of our world, our brain tries to create patterns and alignments. It has a tough time handling inconsistency.
The discomfort with inconsistency is known as cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the feeling of uncomfortable tension, which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time. You can read more on this topic by checking out Leon Festinger’s book, a Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Stanford University Press, 1957).
Of course, any mature person does recognize that no one is perfect. Such person allows concessions for mistakes and one-off behaviors. But over time, if your actions and words are incongruent, then your character is quickly called into question. And when your character is called into question, it leaves little room for trust. Who is comfortable trusting someone who is perceived to be a fake or a flake?
While it is nearly impossible to control perception, we can certainly be mindful of keeping alignment between what we preach and what we practice. Here is a guideline I tried to adhere to. I don’t always hit my targets but they are worth shooting for.
1. Follow through on your promise. Reliability, dependability, steadfastness are qualities that not only make you attractive to the opposite sex but they are also what employers look for. Of course, you may have heard the more sexy description for walking the talk. It is integrity.
2. Remember the small things. How many times have you told a colleague or customer, “I’ll follow up with you in a couple days” and completely forgot? How many times have you told your wife, “I’ll fix that broken handle” and never got around to it? When you forget the “small things,” you run up a deficit in your goodwill account with other people.
3. Be mindful of your public persona. If you preach simplicity or responsibility but the majority of your social media photos shows you doing keg stands, you can bet it will make people wonder.
4. Choose your friends well. Make sure the people you let into your life reflect your values. You may have heard the saying, that you are the average of the five people you hang out with. What are you averaging?
5. Take a stand. Often, I find that the people I admired and respect were not necessary ones who shared my viewpoints but ones who were clear on where they stand. We are drawn to people who have the courage to be themselves.
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