Do as I say, not as I do

How many times have I heard that?  I know I’ve said it. Yet while that mentality is occasionally applicable under certain circumstances, for the most part, I think it’s total bullshit.

I get it. If you’re teaching someone impressionable, you need to teach them the right way. But why then, does the teacher get a free pass? Does experience bring with it the right to be lazy, or to tout bad habits? It shouldn’t. Every one of us should be striving to maintain a certain standard in our actions, and to not do so either needs to have a damn good reason, or to be accompanied by a full admission of our own inability to demonstrate correct behavior.

Which leads me to another saying that I’m rather fond of – lead by example. There could sure be a lot more of that in the world.

If I’m following my own doctrine, i.e. doing what I say, then this is where I fully admit to not always practicing what I preach. Yes, it’s true, and it’s not something that I’m proud of. But hey, since that was my admission, I’m redeemed. Bam!

Not. So. Fast.

While I really do try and conduct myself in the way that I encourage others to do, there are times when it just slips away from me.  Whether it’s because I just get overwhelmed and instinctively react, or simply choose to engage in such actions, the outcome is still less than desirable.  For that there is no excuse.  Yes, I can justify bad behavior, but I cannot excuse it.  Because there is always, ultimately, a choice.

More often than not, this happens when I get emotional.  By emotional, I mean angry, because that is my primary emotion.  If it doesn’t make me happy or sad, there’s a good chance it’ll make me angry.  I’ll go so far as to say anger is the majority shareholder of my emotional state of mind.  It’s a problem I’m aware of, and actively combat, but there are times when I’m just too tired or distracted to do so.  That’s when the beast comes out.

This issue is most poignant to me when it comes to my son. He seems to have the same proclivity toward frustration that I do, which is unfortunate. When I see him getting frustrated, I’ll tell him that doing so doesn’t help anything, and that the best way to deal with things is calmly and rationally. When he even sounds like he’s getting an attitude, he gets told to say it again, more civilly. But none of it helps in the long term.  While I’m sure that some of it is just how his brain works, there’s another likelihood that can’t be ignored either.

I’m not a good influence when it comes to staying calm.

There are many examples I could use, but I’ll point to the one that’s most common.  Traffic. I am just not tolerant of slow, stupid, or inconsiderate drivers.  I will yell, insult, gesture, and honk. And I have to work really, really hard to not run people off the road.  All of these things are very hard for me to control when my son is in the car. I’m good at refraining from the use of profanity in his presence, though we have had the talk about how there are certain occasions when it is fully appropriate, but the road rage… not so much.

I usually catch myself about halfway through a rant, and attempt to turn it into a lesson. “See, that is a bad driver. Very inconsiderate of others. People like that make me angry.” There’s that justification piece I mentioned before. But since I choose to act that way, it does not excuse me.  I do not need to behave in a way that I would frown upon if he were to do so.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not advocating that people can’t express anger.  Remember, it’s one of my primary states of being. It’s just there there are things to be angry about, and things that need to be let go.

It’s also hard for me to maintain a sense of calm when I’m directly faced with behavior that is counter to what I believe should be common sense, or that is directly defiant to me in some way. I’ll use my son as an example again.  If he does something that he knows he shouldn’t, and plays ignorant or doesn’t own up to it, I lose my temper completely. Bad, bad dad. There are “experts” who will say that you shouldn’t reprimand or deal out punishment while you’re angry, but to wait until you’re calm and then do so.  Well, that’s not I operate. I act first, and ask forgiveness later.  Just… without the forgiveness part.

What I will do, is admit that I acted poorly.  I make it a point to go back later, and explain my actions.  Basically, I own up to losing control of myself.  And I believe that being able to teach that lesson is just as important as trying to teach correct behavior in the first place.

There was a moment, recently, which gave me hope that my penchant to complain hasn’t been completely adopted my son.  We were driving to his school, and no, I wasn’t yelling at traffic. I asked him if he was playing Madden on his tablet, to which he replied “no, I can only play that when I’ve got a wi-fi connection.” That launched me into a rant about how it was stupid that there are games which should be able to be played offline, but can’t be.

He said to me, “Dad, sometimes you just gotta go with it.”

Damn, son. Way to tell your old man.  That simple statement shut me up, and made my heart happy all at the same time.

When you step back, and really think about what you expect from others vs. what you do, what example aren’t you setting?

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