When I buy a product, we want it to do what it says it will on the box. I don’t want to buy pink hair dye that actually turns my hair blue or raspberry jam that is really strawberry. We want what is advertised to be consistent with reality. The same is true for us. We want what we advertise about ourselves (what we say) to be consistent with how we behave (what we do).
When talking about Referent Power, we often say that the first place to start is by naming your values and acting in accordance with them. It can sometimes be easier to see this in an organizational setting where companies have their values published, and so people can point to what’s on their website and say “this says you value integrity and yet I know you fudged last quarter’s numbers.”
In our personal lives we are less likely to walk around saying “I value honesty and loyalty” in such point-blank terms. And yet there are still cases where we don’t put our money where our mouth is, or where our actions don’t align with what we say we value.
A more tangible example of this perhaps would be someone who says they’re lactose intolerant and yet will go out for ice cream with their friends. They have a general rule that they live by, and yet they will come up with excuses to break that rule. That’s a bit of a stereotypical and silly example, but there are many other scenarios where we could replace that same concept where the person making the exception would be called a hypocrite. Like what if we replaced ice cream with alcohol? Especially if a friend is recovering from substance abuse, we wouldn’t accept an excuse for them to break their rule. Or if someone was always concerned with eating healthy and worrying about what they put in their bodies but had a cigarette habit, something would definitely seem In conflict with their values!
On the more intangible side with our values, sometimes it can come out in expecting something from others that you don’t hold yourself to. Like if you want your friends to drop everything when you need them in a moment of crisis but aren’t willing to do the same for them. Or maybe you don’t say “I value…” but you make “I am…” statements that don’t turn out to be true. I once knew a girl who claimed to be empathetic and in-tune with other’s emotions, and yet she didn’t take having my noise-canceling headphones on while working on my computer as a sign that I didn’t want to be disturbed right now and couldn’t have a conversation about her day. What bothered me more in that situation wasn’t the action itself, but the fact that she thought about herself in one way and acted another.
The key theme throughout this is consistency. We want to be people who do what we say and say what we do. In other words, we want to live truthfully. We want to accurately know our Heres so that we can get There. This can come from personal reflection, but sometimes we need a Moment of Truth from an outside perspective. Rather than starting to go around calling people out on their problems, I would instead suggest that, if you want to start living consistently, you go to your close friends and family members and ask them to gently remind you when you start behaving inconsistently.
If you say you value something, it’s likely that at the very least you want to value it, and that’s a good place to start. If we say we value honesty though, for example, we have to live in an honest manner. Your core values should inform the way you act, so if you say honesty is a core value but you don’t live honestly, that reveals that it may not actually be a core value of yours in this moment. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t change, and you can absolutely begin to live more aligned with what you say you value. But just saying something doesn’t make it true. You first need to come to terms with your Here before you can make changes to get you There.
Gracie McBride is the Content and Systems Management Coordinator for The Crossroad.