Walk the talk
The other day six friends and I joined 300 or so other people on the American Cancer Society's annual fund-raising 5-km walk ``Walk the Walk” in the village of Miami Shores.
This was just one of many neighborhoods in the greater Miami metropolitan area that were participating in this event, organized by the American Cancer Society to raise funds for breast cancer research and to provide services to those affected by the disease.
It was an extremely well-organized walk. At the Miami Country Day School where we started the walk, we were met by an army of volunteers who registered us and provided refreshments and instructions for the walk, and local police officers were stationed at every critical intersection to ensure walkers’ safety.
We had a fine day for the walk, and our group had fun at a brunch afterwards in a village café. I sensed from our talk that we’d definitely do this walk again next year. We felt a collective sense of accomplishment from a small thing we did together for those in need.
The ``walk the walk” title of this charity event got me thinking about the original idiom, ``walk the talk,” from which the American Cancer Society must have gotten the inspiration to name the event. What does ``walk the talk” mean? It means doing exactly as you say you will do ― behaving in consistency with your words. Another expression we hear that means the same thing is ``practice what you preach.”
If I say to my kids, ``Put the things you use back where they belong,” I should do the same thing myself and not just nag the children about it. If a preacher tells the congregation to forgive those who do wrong, it is expected that the pastor would also do precisely what he was urging others to do. Not walking the talk in this case will make the speaker a hypocrite.
It is quite easy to talk the talk and not walk the talk. We know many candidates for high office in the political arena who promise many things but we also know that not many of them deliver what they’d say they’d do once elected.
And yet, fortunately for us, throughout human history, we see some remarkable people who led others by example by practicing what they preached and truly walked the talk.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was such a person. He was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian and a participant in the German resistance movement against Nazism. He believed that the Church was responsible for bringing about social justice wherever injustice is present in society. He was leading a comfortable life as a faculty member of the Union Theological Seminary in New York when he decided to return to his country.
He wrote why he must return to Germany to his mentor, Reinhold Niebuhr: ``I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people. Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization or willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.”
He returned to Germany on the last scheduled steamer to cross the Atlantic. ``The Cost of Discipleship,” Bonhoeffer’s most widely read book begins, ``Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church. Our struggle today is for costly grace.” That was a sharp warning to his own church which was engaged in a bitter conflict with the official Nazified state church. He was arrested in 1943 and was executed by hanging in 1945, only 23 days before Germany surrendered to the Allied Forces. He chose to risk his life and courageously practiced what he had preached in classrooms and churches.
Do we want an environment that is clean and sustainable? Do we want to raise children who will become thoughtful, considerate, loving, good, kind, and patient adults? Do we want a wholesome language in the home, schools and in a society? Do we want citizens who are law-abiding in all areas of community life and are willing to speak up for those who can’t? Do we want every country in the world to respect one another and love peace?
We can achieve them all if every one of us practices what we believe in. The rest will follow our lead.
Let’s remember what Confucius (551 B.C.-479 B.C.) said, ``Tell me, I will forget. Show me, I will remember.”
Hyon O'Brien is a former reference librarian now living in the United States. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.