Quote of the Week – It is noble to be good. It is nobler to teach others to be good – and less trouble. Mark Twain
Knowing a great deal about Mark Twain’s life, I suspect that he was poking fun at himself when he wrote this line. Yet, he may have also been referring to people who promote how others can do good in the world without actually doing good themselves!
Of course, there are extreme examples – like priests or ministers who taught others to be good, yet who turned out to be sexual predators. In actuality, Twain’s quote is probably most relevant for situations that do not involve ethical breaches or illegal behavior.
Some people volunteer to build houses for the poor; others teach the volunteers how to build those houses or run non-profit housing organizations. Which job is nobler?
I certainly have known teachers, preachers, and other professionals who excelled at teaching others to do good, yet did not lead by example. As my late father often said, “That guy is a ‘Do as I say – not as I do’ kind of person!”
Looking back at my own experiences as a human resources consultant and professional coach, it can be challenging for me to follow my own recommendations. For example, I am sometimes better at teaching or coaching on time management than I am at managing my own time.
Despite our shortcomings, I think Mark Twain is implying that it is important for us to be easy on ourselves. Not always following my own time management advice is obviously not the same as deliberate deception and taking advantage of vulnerable individuals. Perhaps a good balance is “teaching others to be good,” as well as “being good” ourselves!
Questions for Reflection
- In your experience, how common is it for people to offer suggestions or advice that they themselves do not follow?
- Why do you think that Mark Twain said that it is “nobler to teach others to be good” than “to be good” ourselves?
- How often do you find yourself giving advice or suggestions that are inconsistent with your own behaviors?
- If such inconsistencies happen far too often, what steps do you want to take to change?