Practice what you preach can be bad advice.
We lay a big emphasis on consistency – to construct a set of ideals and hold true to them. At the same time, the world changes rapidly and expects people to adapt to these changes. How does one resolve this tension?
Based on our world-view, we construct ideals to aspire towards. Working towards an ideal is a process – it isn’t merely a state of mind or a switch that we flip. Besides, it need not be carried out in isolation. Our ideals are as much a result of our own experiences as they are of other people’s. Even as we hold true to ideals, it would take time to realize them with the support of the people around us.
Additionally, ideals can change with time and experience. The better we understand the world, the less likely we are to stick to our naive constructions of how it works. With additional information, we ought to change our beliefs about what we stand for and how we would address problems. Open-mindedness and adaptability are indispensable.
“Practice what you preach” demands that we keep things consistent, and therefore static. It holds people to a rigid standard, based on something that a person has declared in the past. While emphasizing consistency, it discourages boldness.
Sure, people should not be hypocrites – accountability is crucial in ensuring fairness and holding us to our commitments. But the commitments themselves can evolve over time and must be allowed to.
While an anchor keeps a ship from drifting away, it ought to not turn into a weight in tow.