Have you ever had a parent or other authority figure who said to you, “Do as I say, not as I do?” How did you react to the statement? Did it sound odd to you? Did you follow their words or did you follow their actions?
Statements directing a person to follow someone’s words instead of their actions are very confusing to them, especially if they are children. By nature children learn by mimicking other people’s behavior. This tendency to mimic the actions of others carries over into adulthood. As a result, when someone’s words contradict their behavior, it creates subconscious confusion for the people around them. Since their words contradict human nature, their words often don’t have the desired effect.
Let’s take an example. Perhaps a single parent goes out and parties on the weekend. The parent smokes, drinks, and stays out all night. This same parent has strict rules on dating and tell their teenage child that they should not be sexually active, drink, or smoke. When questioned by the child as to why it’s okay for the parent but not for them, the parent replies, “Do as I say, not as I do.” This phrase is a standard response that the child has heard over and over.
First, let’s go into the parent’s head. The parent doesn’t want their child to do the things that they do, but they are not willing to give them up. The parent may even have been told that their behavior is not appropriate by family, friends, or a cultural belief. Yet, they continue the behavior believing that telling their children not to follow their example makes it acceptable.
The parent is attempting to connect their child with a different behavior than they are demonstrating. Meanwhile, they are denying the connection between their behavior and the behavior their child is likely to demonstrate.
Now, let’s go into that teenager’s head. Consciously or subconsciously, the child notices that the parent drinks, smokes, and sleeps around. They also know that the parent denies or downplays their actions by stating the preferred behavior. This may appear somewhat like a lie to the child. Their brain works to sort out this information since it is contrary to their nature.
The resulting behavior of the teenager depends a lot on the child’s nature. Some children will listen to what the parent tells them to do and follow those instructions out of a sense of duty to the parent. However, others will connect the parent’s behavior and words to conclude that it is okay to smoke, drink, and sleep around as long as you tell others that is not the way to behave. This means that the child may fall into the same pattern with younger siblings or may behave this way with their own children. Meanwhile a teenager with another temperament may simply see the parent as lying about their actions and conclude that they don’t have to listen to the parent at all. Instead, they do anything they want whenever they want.
The bottom line is that you set an example for others with your actions. Therefore, your words might as well match your actions. If your words match your actions, you will minimally be seen as authentic even if your actions are not always ideal.