You are what you do

I heard a woman who doesn’t work but overtly disparages friends who aren’t able to participate in her luxurious designer-clothing-five-star-travel-restaurant lifestyle say that she was not materialistic.


Now there’s nothing wrong with enjoying material things but there’s clearly a gap here between what’s expressed and lived.

And the examples are everywhere.

A friend worked with an executive who touted himself as a mentor until it was later revealed that he set about coming on to menses and sabotaging those who refused his advances.

Spot the difference? It’s only in the details.

What these examples have in common is that they point to a gap between who people say they are and what they, in fact, do.

But it’s the latter that counts (with a caveat around intention).

Words are easy, to speak and receive, in particular, if they say what we want to hear.

It’s much harder to walk our talk. And while we all have gaps, the size of those gaps matter enormously.

For example, a person who is unfaithful in all their relationships cannot call himself or herself loyal.

This sort of disparity is obvious.

But often the gap is subtler; self-perception is out of kilter with actions as in the earlier examples.

I was recently at a lecture on ‘making a difference’ where one of the participants said she’d always thought of herself as a good person but recently realized she didn’t ‘do’ anything so wasn’t sure where she’d developed the perception. The group laughed; her comment struck a chord with everyone.

Identifying the say-do gaps is important and helps us identify areas for growth.

Don’t confuse having contradictions with deliberately constructing an image that is at right angles to how you live, the former is quite human, the latter takes intention.

Our views shift as we acquire more information and over time. Provided they legitimately reflect what we believe and not what we believe others want us to say, contradictions are inevitable.

We can’t chase perfection (which at any rate is impossible) but congruency.

For example, I see myself as patient and while largely true I am impacted by stress and mood and like everyone else, there are things that press my buttons.

And although I am direct I am not as overtly outspoken as I once was because I have learned that there is a place and a time, that speaking out is as important but so is staying quiet, it depends on the context. A lack of nuance in applying principles can reflect poor judgment or even rigidity, we must be sensitive to what the situation demands.

Sensitivity is different from putting on a front.

Any of us can lose our temper, that’s different to beating someone up.

And any of us can let our partners down or take them for granted, somewhat different from a weekend away for a romantic weekend with someone else. That’s requires planning, planning implies intention.

It’s also important in ‘doing’ you have the right intention. There’s no point doing charity work if it’s to make you look good rather than a reflection of where your heart is at. This is where the idea that ‘actions speak louder than words’ can break down if it’s misapplied.

So if you want to know who you are, make a list of what you do.

No amount of existential reflection will provide you with deeper insight or bring you to quicker recognition of the reality that you are dealing with, whether in yourself or other people.

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