How Closely are Your Actions Aligned with Your Values?
If there's one thing that makes me mad, it's a hypocrite.
Especially when that person is me. Last year, while taking a class on social responsibility, I realised that many of my actions completely contradicted my beliefs and I began to question what my true values were and how I could better align my life with these in mind.
The first hypocrisy I uncovered one afternoon, was my diet. After realising that I personally could not bring myself to kill an animal, it suddenly occurred to me that I had essentially been paying someone to do my dirty work. I discussed this idea with other friends, some who'd lived their childhoods on farms, who said that they felt they could end an animal's life for their dinner plate. For them, this was something they could live with; for me however the realisation of my hypocrisy turned me vegetarian. Two weeks later, I tried veganism, after discovering the detrimental effects of the live agricultural industry on the environment.
Checking in with my values also helped me to feel less frustrated about issues I cared about, and more accepting of responsibility towards change.
As someone who had previously shunned anyone who dared utter the words “I'm vegan,” this was a serious wake up call to my actions not aligning with what I believed in- simply because I'd had my eyes closed and my head in the sand.
Checking in with my values also helped me to feel less frustrated about issues I cared about, and more accepting of responsibility, no matter how small my part towards change may seem. This kind of realisation was what I wanted to share with Kindlings; I knew there were so many ideas out there about how we could make a difference, but without a place to find and share them our values were turning into hollow ideals.
Soon I found more and more inconsistencies in my values and even little actions - for example taking plastic bags at the grocery store or those little soy-sauce fish with my sushi, definitely didn’t agree with my values to live minimally. I was quickly turning through products I viewed as expendable items that really needn't have been.
Over the last few months I've been gradually trying to align my actions with my values and you can too.
So where to begin?
1. Write down your values
What do you stand for? What do you think you stand for? What do you wish you stood for? You might find it is easiest to start with simple traits, such as compassion, honesty or open-mindedness.
2. Choose an activity
This could be what you do for work, how you behave around a particular person or even what you have for breakfast each morning.
3. Connect the dots
Try to identify where your actions match up with what you stand for. If something doesn't match up, ask yourself if your action seems contradictory and if it is something that can be changed?
4. Make a change
If you've identified a contradiction look at why that is. Is it something you feel comfortable with? If not, is there something you could do about it now? Maybe you feel the need to research it further. Or maybe what you thought you believed isn't actually what you meant?
What if the change I make contradicts another value I have?
The truth is there is no possible way to live a life entirely free of contradiction. It is likely one of your values is acceptance and another persistence. Explore your interpretation; for example it is possible to be both accepting of the current situation and persistent in fighting for future change.
Be careful with consistency and be realistic
All that being said, it's important to be realistic about how consistent you can be. Needless to say, being a total stress-head or saying nasty things about others are definitely not part of my values. But these can be really difficult behaviours to change especially when they have become habitual. It is important therefore not to see this exercise as a quest for perfectionism but a goal for continuous improvement. It's all too easy to beat yourself up about these mistakes. So come back and check your consistency again: How can I believe that I should extend kindness to others and not forgive myself?
Kicking hypocrisy to the curb can help you find meaning
If you can uncover even just one hypocrisy and change it to stay true to you, you will almost certainly feel freer. Understanding what you do, why you do it and how it contributes to what you believe in is a great way to help find meaning in your life.