Conventional wisdom goes something like this: if your actions don’t match what you profess to value, you need to change your actions to match your values. This makes sense. We are talking about a life of integrity, being true to oneself.
But what if we get the solution backward? What if, when we encounter a “say-do” gap in our lives, it is what we say that is inaccurate rather than what we do?
I am not sure this is right, but I am wondering if a lot of our troubles are because we do not really understand our values. We claim to value safety, authenticity, things of that nature. Yet our actions do not align with those values? Why? Why in the world would we choose to do something that does not align with our values?
Here is a revolutionary, if terrifying thought, what if they don’t?
Curtain Number ?
So, the scenarios go something like this: we say we value safety yet decide to jump out of airplanes. We say we value health yet eat ice cream every night. We say we value truth, yet refuse to tell our boss what we really think or our spouse what is really going on with us.
There is a decent chance we are lying to ourselves about what we value.
When we make a choice, it is like picking a curtain in those old Game Shows. “I’ll take what is behind curtain number….two!” The consequences are not certain. But we have made a choice. Action is where the rubber meets the road.
And in the human life, action is the result of one thing: what we believe to be in our own best interest. What we value.
So, I am suggesting our actions reveal our values. They cannot be contradictory to our values, except that maybe we chose a poor manifestation or false supposition concerning our values.
But if I choose to lie to my wife, I am choosing self-preservation, conflict-avoidance, and superficial harmony rather than hard truth and honest conversation. “I’ll take door number…two?” It shows that I value those things more than I value the health of my relationship. Maybe that is just true. Maybe I care more about the appearance of peace than the reality of unity. When I choose ice cream, I am revealing that there is another value – joy, I suppose – that I hold. Maybe it is in conjunction, balance, or opposition to my proclaimed (or perceived) value of health. But the point is it is there. It is a value and I make my choice based on that value.
When we make a bad decision, the prevailing wisdom posture suggests we just need to do better. We just need to change our behavior. How the heck do you do that? Just make a different choice. How? Why would I choose something different. Do you realize how vulnerable, how dangerous, how revealing it is to make any decision or take any action in this world. It is not something we are doing lightly.
We can’t (or won’t) change our behavior by changing our behavior. We will always find ourselves back in the same action, making choices because of the same underlying value that we have not acknowledged.
So, if we want to change our behavior, we have to examine our values. What do we really want? Why? When we make poor choices, it is because we believe it will lead to a value. Or maybe we just hope. What value are we hoping for? Is our behavior really the best avenue to achieve that value?
And I am talking about the deep value, not the superficial one. Superficial values, like comfort or affirmation, are like the moat surrounding a fortified castle. What we keep in the turrets is what really matters. Get past the moat and the gates and all of the other obstacles you have put in the way to try to protect yourself and make the castle easier for you to manage and harder for people to penetrate.
Action reveals value. Why are you doing what you are doing? If you can find the true answer to that, deconstructing your choices, you can discover a more firm and true foundation. From which, you can make better choices moving forward. An awareness of deeper values is the purest path to behavioral change. Anything else is cosmetics. The inconsistency between your action and values is not a behavior problem; it is an issue of awareness.