I talk a big game. Whatever the issue may be, however well-informed I am about it (or not, as is more often the case), I will generally have something to say on the matter. I once got riled up about something very benign – so benign in fact that I do not remember what it was – and my friend asked, “Chloe, is there anything you don’t have a strong opinion on?” It seems I have a reputation for speaking my mind. I’ve known that for a long time, and I’m very much fine with that. However, I’ve only recently learnt that not only do I have a reputation for speaking my mind, but speaking my mind is sneakily shaping other aspects of my reputation.
It came to my attention when I was at a BBQ, enjoying a delicious beef burger, and an exchange which went something along the lines of:
Friend: “Is that a veggie burger?”
Me: “No it’s meat.”
Friend: “Oh, I thought you were a vegetarian.”
Me: “James is veggie. Is that where you got that from?”
Friend: “No just something you said once made me think you were.”
Me: “Well I guess I talk like a vegetarian then!”
But the thing is, I do. You’d be totally forgiven for thinking I’m a vegetarian, because I often talk about the importance of reducing meat consumption or just what the best veggie versions of stuff are (incidentally, Quorn southern fried chicken pieces – thank me later). I know a lot of vegetarians – one of them feeds me – so by default I eat vegetarian food a lot and know a lot about it. But I still eat meat (and use my newly-discovered anaemia to justify it for the iron content). I eat dairy (even though that’s also bad for the planet and I have no excuse because I’m actually dairy-intolerant). And yet my reputation gets a nice gold star on it because I talk a big game and associate with people who are actually making the good life choices.
And on top of talking like a vegetarian, I also talk like an environmentalist, a feminist and an activist for social justice. I’m constantly spouting my opinions on what’s right and what’s wrong. I do believe that a plant-based diet is better for the planet. I do believe that we should use less plastic, challenge gender stereotypes, buy fairtrade. I’m not lying when I say those things, and those are important conversations that we need to have. But because I talk the talk, people assume I flawlessly walk the walk. My words paint a very different picture to what my life actually looks like, particularly because I post them on a very public platform.
When you write a blog about something and put it on the internet, people naturally assume you practise what you preach. Whether you’re imploring people to be more honest, meet hate with love or speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, the fact you’ve taken the time to write 1000 words on the subject implies that, if you don’t do that already, you’re going to do that from now on. And while my intention generally is to be better at doing the thing I’m writing about, I’m never saying that I’m brilliant at that thing already. I’m often just exploring an idea, trying to convince myself as much as anyone that it’s something worth pursuing, but I’m beginning to realise that people therefore make assumptions about my actions based on what I say.
And I’m not the only one; we all have a platform from which we share our ideas. We debate in pubs, we like articles on Facebook, we post quotes on Instagram. We stand on our soapboxes, loud and proud, without realising that the smallest slip up could knock us flat on our face. As soon as you – just once – choose convenience over principles, take the easy way out, have a moment of weakness, you run the risk of looking like a hypocrite to anyone who has seen what you’ve preached, shared or posted. I’m human and my good intentions don’t always work out. Sometimes circumstances get in the way, more often I just fail, and if I hadn’t spouted my mouth off about it online then no one would notice. But that’s the problem with giving a public account of your opinions; your public can then hold you to account.
It’s enough to make you never say anything again. But I don’t think that’s the answer. I think we need to say more. I think we need to say, “This is my opinion on X, Y and Z, and also I’m not perfect and I’m not saying I always get it right.” I think we need to say, “Here’s a thought-provoking article I read, and also I read it after reading 10 mindless listicles on Buzzfeed.” And I think we need to be kind to other people when they say one thing and seemingly do another, remembering that sharing an opinion does not legally bind them into acting a certain way until the end of time.
So in the interests of full disclosure, I’m stepping down from my soapbox and telling the cold hard truth. I hold my hands up and admit that my reputation benefits from my words way more than it does my actions. I apologise if I ever gave the impression I’m anything better than I really am, because I promise I have no interest in people thinking I’m perfect. But I acknowledge that I need to work harder on practising what I preach, and that you can’t take anything I’ve written in the last three years as Gospel evidence of my character or behaviour.
Living with integrity is not about saying the right things, doing the right things and never getting anything wrong – although if you could manage that then that would be marvellous. Rather, it’s about trying your best to say and do the right things, keeping an open mind to new ideas and being honest about the times when you don’t quite manage to match your words to your actions.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti