You Are a Public Figure

Many of us love our anonymity.  We don’t have to carry the burden of being watched and analyzed — you don’t have to be on your best behavior all the time.  But that is actually an illusion.  Our actions are making impacts all the time, whether you realize or not.  In this post I discuss how seeing this big picture will inspire us to be vigilant about remaining true to our values in all circumstances.

So, the election season is upon us.  And politicians are getting scrutinized, once again.

Glad that you are not a public figure, being watched your every move?

Think again.   You are a public figure, whether you realize or not.

No, most of us are not watched and analyzed to the extent that some candidates are.  But none of us live in a vacuum.  In every relationship, you are being observed.  People are receiving signals and messages from you.  Every word you say, every move or gestures you make are having impacts.  Paparazzi may not be pointing cameras at you to catch you at your vulnerable moments, but beware that you are getting interpreted (and misinterpreted) constantly.

Think of the story of the boy who cried wolf.  He lied twice, and his actions led to others forming an opinion, an assumption of what he is about.  I don’t know if he was a good boy in other circumstances.  His unethical conduct ultimately built up a reputation that worked against him.

But it’s one thing if you alone are the sole reaper of the seeds you sow.  This is actually not the case — you bear more responsibility than you may realize.  You represent more than yourself.  And your actions have consequences that reach far beyond.

Let me give you an example.  Even though I am a Japanese, my primary social circles are made up of Caucasian Americans.  9 out of 10 people I know are not from Japan.  So when a conversation turns to anything relating to my home country — from karaoke to sushi — they turn to me for expert information.

Obviously, I am not an expert on all things Japanese.  What I know about anime, karate, or Nintendo may or may not be more than what average Americans know.  But that doesn’t matter.  As a lone Japanese in my social circle, they look to me to represent Japan.  Things I say and do are input into everyone’s minds and accumulating as a part of their overall impression of Japan.

This can potentially have significant consequences.  My friends and family members can run into other Japanese people.  Their interactions will be informed by what they know and understand of things I do and say.  I’m hopeful that everyone I come across considers us Japanese to be friendly and trustworthy, though obviously I don’t have any control over what people actually think of me.  I just conduct myself inline with my values the best I can.

Even if you’re not a lone representative your country or ethnicity, you are always representing more than yourself.  Everyone comes from a family with a name — you represent your family.  Many of us are employed, thus representing our employer.  I once worked at a place where the company had a public relations policy — what we should express publically while identifying ourselves as an employee of that organization.  It was mostly about political inclinations — that company didn’t want to be associated with any particular political organization — but it’s not a bad idea.  After all, everyone you come across may potentially be your employer’s past, present or future customers.  How you treat others, how you come across has an impact on your employer’s bottom line.

Even if you don’t particularly feel all that loyal your employer, you may feel differently when it comes to your family.  Husbands and wives are two different people, but many times people don’t see it that way.  You can bet that if you cheat someone in any transaction, your spouse will be recipients of the other party’s anger and frustration.  It’s neither fair nor just that they have to pay the consequences for your actions.

I am not advocating that you tightly script your every action so that it’s calculated.  That kind of rigid structure does give its own impression — it’s easy for people to see you as controlling, rigid, and manipulative.  Nor am I saying you need to please everyone you meet.  That is virtually impossible, and attempting to do so will make you look like a spineless people pleaser, ready and willing to bend yourself and your values just to be accepted and liked.  Neither model commands respect and trust you and your associates deserve.

Rather, this realization should inspire and motivate you to always act inline with your values.  By defining and being vigilantly aware of your central principles, you are putting your best foot forward to represent yourself, your family, your employer, your ethnicity — and any other groups you belong in.

Going back to the above Japanese example, I think of reliability as one of the central virtues of our culture.  More so than in western cultures I’ve experienced, we take seriously what we say we’re going to do.  That is a trait I am proud of, and I try to implement it to my daily life.  I’m not perfect by any means, but I am careful of what I promise, or even mention — for saying that I’m going to do something, means a commitment to actually following through and doing it, for me.

By being consistent with your values, you are affirming the cultures you represent.  No values are developed in a vacuum.  Rather, they are handed down from our history — most prominently, from our family — and implanted in us before we come of age and start to take control over what we think and value.  It’s possible to uproot values that are handed to us, but it’s a hard thing to do and many of us don’t do a complete overhaul on things that our families value.

In the other words, by honoring your values, you are honoring the larger groups you represent, as most values originate from entities larger than you.  You are choosing to accept and making them your own, but the roots and the connections remain.

It’s easy to slack off and take short cuts in life, when you believe that your existence really doesn’t matter that much.  It may not be receiving the same attention politicians or movie starts do, but make no mistake — what you say and do have an impact.  People may not be consciously “watching” you, but you are being watched and held accountable.

You have nothing to fear, though, if you’re living every (or most) moment of your life being who you mean to be.  Without realizing, you, your family, and everyone you’re associated with, are reaping the benefits of your conscientious behaviors.

On the other hand, if you think you can get away with being lazy, inhumane, and unethical, simply because you’re not a public figure, consider this a caution.  You are sowing what you’re reaping — and you may not be the only one to do so.