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ValueSpeak: Lessons without words

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It was well past bedtime when Dad finally arrived home after a frustrating day of single-handedly trying to keep the entire life insurance industry viable. The kids were down for the night, and Mom was telling Dad about how cross Wanda Lynne had been and how she hoped both she and the baby would now get some much-needed rest.

Mom was just putting Dad’s warmed-up pork chops on the table when a familiar sound wafted down the staircase and into the kitchen: giggling, of the pre-teenage girl variety. Dad strode to the foot of the stairs.

“Jean Ellen,” he called out as loudly as he dared without waking the baby. “Are you in Helen’s room again?”

There was a pause, then a sheepish, “Yes, Daddy. But we’ll be quiet. I promise.”

“See that you are,” Dad said. “The baby needs her rest, and so do you.”

“Yes, Daddy.”

Dad returned to his pork chops. But he had scarcely ladled some of Mom’s rich milk gravy on a slice of her homemade bread when another gale of girlish laughter blew in. He hurried halfway up the stairs.

“Girls!” he admonished sternly, his voice a bit louder and a lot more threatening. “If you wake that baby up there’s going to be serious trouble!”

Jean and Helen struggled to compose themselves.

“Yes, Daddy!” they sang out in a chorus that sent them both tittering into the pillows.

Again.

Confident that order had been restored, Dad returned to the kitchen just as Mom was putting his meal back into the oven. “It’s cold,” she said. “It’ll only take a …”

Mom was interrupted by the outbreak of The Mother of All Pillow Fights. It had started innocently enough. Jean had thrust her pillow into Helen’s face to muffle her giggling. But Helen had interpreted it as a declaration of war, and she replied with a pillow to Jean’s head. Jean couldn’t ignore such blatant aggression, so she retaliated and the battle was on.

But the hostilities ended abruptly when the girls heard the ominous sound of Dad’s feet bounding up the stairs, three at a time. They froze, confident the next thing they would hear would be the sound of the Pearly Gates swinging open to let them in.

Instead they heard Dad’s footsteps stop, followed by an agonizing moment of silence, followed by a frenzied series of thumps at the top of the stairs. Dad had remembered the baby sleeping peacefully in the room next to Helen’s. He knew that any form of punishment would start the girls howling loud enough to awaken the entire house — including the baby. So Dad gave vent to his anger in the only way he could think of at the moment. He clenched his fists, gritted his teeth and started jumping up and down at the top of the stairs.

As it turned out, it was the best thing he could have done. When Jean and Helen peeked out the door and saw their controlled, dignified father literally hopping mad, his green eyes flashing and his red hair bouncing, it was enough to frighten them both into a sober night’s sleep.

No matter how good we may be with words, we often teach our most powerful lessons without them. The way we act, the clothes we wear, our consideration of the rights and feelings of others all communicate more clearly than we could ever hope to articulate verbally. Which is why we need to consider our unspoken messages as carefully as we do the spoken ones.

“The influence of man is not just in what he says, but what he does,” said the poet T.S. Eliot. Mahatma Gandhi put it even more succinctly: “My life is my message.”

If you’re not sure that people really understand you, maybe it’s because you’re sending out mixed messages. Take a close look at your actions and make sure they accurately reflect what you stand for. If not, it may be time to make some changes.

Even if you have to hop to it to do it.

To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com. Twitter: JoeWalkerSr