Living Our Words

The story has been told of a minister who was prominent in his church order, adopting as his key mission, the issue of poverty, its impact on individuals and families and how it should be reduced if not totally eliminated, especially in such an economically developed and comparatively rich society as North America. The minister made “poverty reduction” the focal point of many of his writings and talks. At every opportunity, it seemed he was determined to bring to the attention of those in leadership and influence, at every level whether it was political, business, academic or community, the injustice in our society towards those living in poverty. Certainly, no one could refute or deny the importance of social justice in this context. 

The question was asked: “how was the minister’s message received and did it have any impact?” 

It was alleged that the minister’s life may have not in fact represented or complemented his words. During his short time of evangelizing others about the need to reduce poverty, he was found to have purchased a new luxury car and SUV, a large house where he had extensive internal and external renovations performed, a new boat for his lakeside home, and other such benefits that were beyond the reach of not only those living in poverty but even those of the middle class being asked to sacrifice and lower their own standards of living to help the less fortunate. Needless to say, it was surmised that the noble seed he was attempting to sow landed on dry ground. It was believed that his behaviour was so contradictory to his words that people’s hearts may have been hardened to any message he desired to convey. The credibility offered by his profession that could have done so much good was no doubt compromised.

I have been fortunate during my career, to have been allowed to sit on a number of Boards, Councils, Committees, and Management teams. I have observed the various behaviours of those in leadership, and at times have been astounded at the dichotomy between their words and actions. I have heard Board Chairs proclaim the importance of openness, transparency, integrity and good governance, only to witness their own breach of such important principles. I have experienced CEOs who attempted to intimidate and manipulate, who with words attacked the person as opposed to challenging the real issues at hand, for the sole purpose of achieving personal favour and success. Yet they were quick to denounce anyone else who might do the same. I have heard managers when questioned on certain business matters, rather than answer a particular question and offer an educated and intelligent explanation, defend by accusing.  I have sat in disbelief when such people are not held accountable, and whose behaviour appears to be accepted and condoned. 

How then are we to respond when a person’s behaviour contradicts their words?

The renowned historian and commentator Matthew Henry says that our first response should be characterized with personal reflection and self-examination. Even though we may feel a strong urge to fight our being abused by hypocrites who serve their own pride, we must also forgive as we would hope to be forgiven.

We must judge ourselves first, and be the judge of our own acts, and not make our word as a law to everybody. We must not judge rashly, nor pass judgment upon our colleagues without any factual grounds. We must not make the worst of people. We must not quarrel with our colleagues for small faults, while we allow ourselves to be involved in greater ones. 

There is a story whose purpose is to teach us that before we call focus on the splinter in our colleague’s eye, we must first identify and remove the beam that might be resident in our own eye. It is strange that a person can be in a certain condition and not be aware of it, who are blinded to their own actions in their own minds. There is a good rule for those who are quick to criticize; first reform yourself:  find first the balance and complement between your own words and actions before you quickly point out such inconsistencies in others.

Recently I stumbled upon an article written by Bill Rogers, LLB, and a writer from Toronto. He provided a brief biography of Virender (“Vern”) Krishna published in Canadian Lawyer Magazine, May 2002. Mr. Krishna is a tax scholar, and a very well respected one at that. Many of us recognize his name from the accounting industry since he is also a designated FCGA. Those who know him say he not only has a good sense of humour, but “he’s trustworthy, polite and a man of principle….he cares about others.” I had the pleasure of sitting with Mr. Krishna as a Director of the Public Accountants Council of Ontario, several years ago.  I was intrigued by a statement from Mr. Krishna. He said, “When you see a wrong being done or a right not being done, you have a duty to speak rather than be silent.” 

Once we have corrected the faults in our own behaviours, we have the duty and responsibility to identify any wrongs being done by others. We must speak out. We cannot be silent. Why?

Though as a professor of law he was speaking to students in his law studies class, Mr. Krishna’s words are relevant for us practicing in accounting as well. He said “You (we) owe an obligation to this profession, to bring it honour and to leave it better than you (we) found it.”

The simplest way to bring honour to ourselves and to our profession is to regularly take the time to self-reflect and to self-examine our own actions and see how they compare to our spoken words.  The greatest honour will be achieved when we can be assured that our actions in a positive way support our words. If there is any contradiction, if any dichotomy exists, then we have lost the ability even though it is our duty, to speak out against the wrongs exercised by others. 

Benjamin Franklin said, “Well done is better than well said!”  John Locke said, "I've always thought the actions of people are the best interpertures of their thoughts".

“Walking our talk” or “living our words” are good mottos to live by.