<span class='p-name'>Practicing what you preach</span>

Practicing what you preach

Our identities are often dictated by the plans, decisions, and actions that we make throughout the day. It can sometimes be a challenge to honor the principles you want to demonstrate.

This may instances where you are making decisions for yourself, or serving as a leader for a group or organization. In my own contexts, I see this in my roles as an individual, a parent, a husband, an educator, and a researcher.

As I make decisions, or let emotion get in the way and determine my reactions, I try to practicing what I preach.

It sounds complicated, but it’s a very simple thought exercise. Am I acting like the adult that I want my children to be when they grow up? Am I teaching like the educator that I want my students to be in their classroom?

Aspirational values as opposed to practiced values

Brene’ Brown describes this in Daring Greatly as a disengagement between our aspirational values and our practiced values. Brown suggests that the space between our practiced values (what we’re actually doing, thinking, & feeling) and our aspirational values (what we want to do, think & feel) is a value gap or disengagement divide.

She cautions that “We don’t have to be perfect, just engaged and committed to aligning values with action.” But, there is a need to be aware that our actions and practiced values ultimately lead to a culture. Culture defines who we are, and ultimately is the “way we do things around here.”

Examining your culture

In the same book, Brene’ says that the following ten questions can tell a lot about the culture and values of an individual, group, family, or organization.

  1. What behaviors are rewarded? Punished?
  2. Where and how are people actually spending their resources (time, money, attention)
  3. What rules and expectations are followed, enforced, and ignored?
  4. Do people feel safe and supported talking about how they feel and asking for what they need?
  5. What are the sacred cows? Who is most likely to tip them? Who stands the cows back up?
  6. What stories are legend and what values do they convey?
  7. What happens when someone fails, disappoints, or makes a mistake?
  8. How is vulnerability (uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure) perceived?
  9. How prevalent are shame and blame and how are they showing up?
  10. What’s the collective tolerance for discomfort? Is the discomfort of learning, trying new things, and giving and receiving feedback normalized, or is there a high premium put on comfort (and how does that look)?

Aligning values to actions

We can get some guidance from Seneca in his letter titled “On practicing what you preach.” The letter is advice provided from Seneca to Lucilius about becoming your own master and not losing sight of your goals or values.

Seneca notes:

It is the mark, however, of a noble spirit not to precipitate oneself into such things on the ground that they are better, but to practice for them on the ground that they are thus easy to endure. And they are easy to endure, Lucilius; when, however, you come to them after long rehearsal, they are even pleasant; for they contain a sense of freedom from care,— and without this nothing is pleasant. I hold it essential, therefore, to do as I have told you in a letter that great men have often done: to reserve a few days in which we may prepare ourselves for real poverty by means of fancied poverty. There is all the more reason for doing this, because we have been steeped in luxury and regard all duties as hard and onerous. Rather let the soul be roused from its sleep and be prodded, and let it be reminded that nature has prescribed very little for us. No man is born rich. Every man, when he first sees light, is commanded to be content with milk and rags. Such is our beginning, and yet kingdoms are all too small for us! Farewell.

The quoted section above is guidance on practicing what you preach. Filling your days by living what you believe. This connects with the theme of poverty that is found in many of Seneca’s letters.

In the letter, the line that resonates with me the most is the one that states “Rather let the soul be roused from its sleep and be prodded, and let it be reminded that nature has prescribed very little for us.” I’m intrigued by this guidance that in living close to what our values might determine for us, there is an opportunity to temper our expectations for what we think we need…and instead listen for what the heart and soul holds for us.

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