While having the opportunity to live in Mexico City with my family, I had many great learning experiences. One in particular helped confirm to me the importance of living by your values.
I soon realized that one of the customs of business in Mexico was drinking Tequila during meals. As someone who has been taught and believes in not drinking alcohol, this was going to be interesting to see people's reaction when I declined; I knew my personal values would be tested.
At one of the first business meals I was asked what type of drink I wanted. When I responded that I wanted water, I got many crazy looks. Then some of my co-workers said no, you need a shot of Tequila and everyone started cheering. When I told the group that I did not drink alcohol, they responded with loud laughter. I think people in the restaurant thought the best joke ever had just been told. And to honest, some of my colleagues may have thought my no-alcohol declaration was a joke.
During the following weeks, my colleagues continued to ask me to drink the Tequila. Finally, at one of our business meals, someone said, today is the day, you must take a shot of Tequila. At that point, I didn't have to say anything. My boss stepped in and shared with the table that I do not drink. He said that after getting to know me, this was something I believed in and they need to respect that. I cannot tell you how good I felt to have someone notice and respect what I valued. From that point on, the level of respect I received was greater than at any other point during my time in Mexico.
I remember sharing this experience with my family and it making quite an impression on my sons. We discussed as a family about the importance of ensuring that you not only have values but live by those values. We discussed that it will not always be easy, but once you have identified your values, you must be sure that those same values can help you weather any situation that you will confront in your life.
As we spoke, the following themes were highlighted to assess whether our personal values are strong enough to build a foundation on:
Beliefs vs. values
The experiences that we have in our life shape us; they shape our beliefs which eventually define our values. Beliefs are strong, but your values are stronger. As parents you need to be sure you are teaching your children the importance of continually strengthening your beliefs in order to build solid values. Values truly help us when it comes to making important decisions because if we have made them a part of our foundation, the decisions are already made. One way to help to identify values is to make two lists, one with beliefs and another with values. Then ask the following questions: Do the beliefs and values align? Are there any gaps and if so, what can be done to make a better connection? As parents do this activity with their children, great strength will come to unify your family.
There is a big difference between choices and decisions. The biggest difference is once you have looked at all your choices and selected one, you have made a decision and no longer have choices. As parents you must be able to answer why would this be important when looking at your values? As you teach your children this very important distinction, you can help them see how vital it is to select those values that will help them make future decisions. Living by and teaching the concept that your values are in many ways pre-determined decisions can bring valuable clarity that will benefit both you and your children. One way to help in teaching this concept is to share personal experiences. As my wife and I have done this with our boys, we have seen great value as they recognize how important it is to understand the difference between choices and decisions and the connection this concept has to a person's values.
Actions vs words
Do you truly live by your values or do you simply talk about them? This may be one of the most important questions you ever ask yourself as a parent. Your children may hear what you say but there is no doubt they will see what you do. The statement that actions speak louder than words is never truer than when it comes to one’s personal values. Your values should be reflected in everything you do and say. As mentioned before, you may have many choices but you want to be sure that the decisions you make when it comes to your actions, reflect your values and leave no doubt in others minds of what you stand for. Leading by example will have the greatest impact on your children, especially when it comes to teaching them about personal values.
The experience I had in Mexico has proved to be a very powerful teaching opportunity for my family on how important it is to have values. As you and your children work together on making the connection between beliefs and values, understanding the difference between choices and decisions and ensuring that your actions reflect your values, your family will experience great joy, peace and happiness. I know that as a father, I want nothing more than for our family to have all of those feelings, even when the storms of trial enter our life, we will be prepared because we have identified and live by our values.
Seth Saunders is an executive business consultant and leadership coach. Seth has been married 20 years to his amazing wife, Amber, and is the proud father of three wonderful sons. He is passionate about helping others succeed.