Woman volunteering at community soup kitchen


Walking the walk and talking the talk.

Do you act on what is important to you, or are your values more of a feeling?

I write a lot about values, thoughts, and emotions, but what does all this mean in terms of how we interact with the world? Does it translate into a foundation for our actions?

What we do on a day-to-day basis matters. Taking the extra step when it’s consistent with our worldview or values is important.

In our busy society, we are constantly working the margins of time management. We try to make every second matter so that we can add to our stock of available time (see time). We get irritated if we lose a few seconds at a stoplight or if we have a slow driver in front of us. With this mind-set, it can be hard to take advantage of unscheduled opportunities to act on our values and to step up when we see a need.

Often, our ability to act depends on being intentional about what we see and how we react. We need to be intentional about how our values translate into real-world action. We can add those kind of images to our awareness filter (and make the time to act on them), or we can schedule time specifically to engage in what is important to us.

For some, there’s a wide divide between what people think and feel and what they do. They may be shy and have trouble interacting in a meaningful way. They may be too busy and can’t find (or haven’t made) the time to act on their convictions. They may not have figured out how to translate their values into meaningful action.

I have a friend for whom helping people in need is one of his values, but he had trouble finding the time to act on this value in a meaningful way. The way he resolved this was by placing himself “on duty” when he was driving. When he was on duty, he carried tools in his car and told himself that he had to stop every time he saw someone with car trouble on the side of the road. He would also go out with the express purpose of seeking out people in need. In this way, he was able to translate his values into actions.

Other people may not have thought about how their values and beliefs translate into action. Sometimes it’s not so obvious how to do something about the things we care about. Examples of these kinds of values might include peace or civility.

One way we can always act on a value is by example. If we care about peace, we can live peaceful lives. If we care about civility, we can make a point to be civil to people. If these attributes are truly values, we should be able to express them by example. This doesn’t mean it will always be easy, but it should be something we strive for.

One of my priority values is civility. I think the world would be a much better place if all of us could be nicer to each other. I have tried to act on this value throughout my life, but have met some specific challenges. One is how to be civil while still standing up for myself and for what I believe in. Another is the challenge of being civil to those who are not civil, even those who are far from civil. I’ve come to the conclusion that civility is not synonymous with meekness or being a pushover. A civil person can stand up for themselves or be just as intense in their arguments as anyone else. It’s the way they engage that is different—they do it constructively and with respect. It can be challenging at times, especially if the person with whom we’re engaging is insulting or abusive. But that’s when we find out how much of a value that attribute is.

Another way to act on our values is through advocacy. Actions can be just as meaningful through the support of something we care about, even if we are not acting on it directly. An example of this might be in support of groups who engage on related issues, like supporting environmental advocacy groups if one of your values is environmentalism, or a group that advocates for animals or children. There are many options. And since we’re talking about action, by “support” I mean more than writing a check (although that is also important)—I mean participating in their efforts or activities.

Acting on our convictions not only can make the world a better place, it can make our lives more meaningful.

How can you make your vision a reality?

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