An e‑mail appeared in my inbox suggesting that I check out what my former high school classmates were up to. So, I clicked on it. There were just about 15 names listed, and I recognized only one. Then I was shown this list of attributes and asked to click on which attributes I remember about this person:

ambitious athletic attractive awesome bright carefree charming clever confident cool creative elegant fashionable friendly fun generous gutsy helpful hilarious hip kind loyal mature modest optimistic outgoing polite proud rad romantic sassy smart soft-spoken sweet talented trustworthy unique upbeat well-dressed witty

I didn’t remember anything about this person, and I so I didn’t click on anything, but then I shuddered—what would people select for me? How was I showing up in 1976? What would they remember? And would they even remember me at all?

He was loud, obnoxious and completely out of lineThis summer I was at a turnpike stop getting coffee, waiting in a long line because it was a holiday weekend. I saw a large man approach the end of the counter where the finished drinks were waiting, and I heard him complain. We all heard him complain. He was loud, obnoxious and completely out of line. He had ordered iced coffee and was complaining that there was not enough ice. He didn’t ask; he angrily demanded more ice. And then he started to complain that he was overcharged for the coffee. He produced the receipt, and the person behind the counter showed him that he was charged the right price. The young clerk was professional and polite, but I could see that she was getting a little scared, her eyes darting around for backup. Please stop, I was begging silently in my head. Please, please, please stop. Just stop. Stop it!

As a technique to produce change, silently begging in my head is about as ineffective as they come, and this was no exception. After the man had nothing more to complain about, he strode off in an air of disgust to the side area where he could get milk and sugar. When I passed by, he was still standing there, probably mulling over his very long list of failed and unmet expectations, and our eyes met for just a moment. I don’t know what made me do this because it’s uncharacteristic of me to take on strangers, but I heard myself saying, “Wow—that was some little scene you had over there. That girl was pretty intimidated, and people were looking at you like you were kinda weird, so you are probably having a real bad day to go off on a stranger like that. So, uhh, I’m just wondering ... are you OK?”

What was I was expecting? Anger and insults, probably. To my total surprise, however, he gave me a big sheepish smile—and started apologizing for his behavior. All of a sudden, I was standing in front of a huge man who was just a bad little boy, and he was sorry. “OK,” I said, trying to think of something powerful to say. “Maybe ... just ... don’t be like that.”

However we behave, we are being a role model for that behaviorYears ago, in synagogue, the rabbi addressed us, and he said that when we pray with feeling, we can be a role model to inspire others around us. And if, on the other hand, we are talking and acting in inappropriate ways, we are also being a role model for that, for bad behavior. Either way, he said, however we behave—we are being a role model for that behavior. Someone is always noticing.

So, how would you rate? Which attributes would someone click on for you? I don’t mean the “you” as you think you are in your head, but the way you show up to others.

Just a few months ago, we got through all of the holidays, asked for forgiveness and committed ourselves to change. Maybe we should have been a little more specific. What if we asked the people around us these questions: “How can I be a better friend to you? How can I be a better spouse to you? How can I be a better parent? How can I show up better at my job, in my community? What is one thing I can work on that you think will really make a positive difference in my life?”

And then ask yourself, How can I honor my own values better? Am I out of alignment with myself? How can I serve better? How can I contribute more? Where can I make a difference? How can I stretch myself for the sake of someone else? What can I make more room for in my life? And then listen to your own answers.

If we don’t know, we can’t growIf you go the gym only once a year, you obviously won’t get any results. If you think about change only once a year, you are not going to get results in that area either. But if you are committed to growing, then a good way to do that is to find out how you are really showing up, and what values or behavior you are really modeling.

If we don’t know, we can’t grow. It’s as simple as that. Whether they say anything or not, people around you are noticing. I guarantee it. Enlist them to help you see for yourself what you need to see. Approach it like you are asking them for a gift—the gift of honesty and loving intention—and it will be. And listen to the wisdom of your own heart to guide you.

If we let them, if we can hear them, if we can turn up the volume of the whispering of our heart, we can turn the silent watchers and witnesses of our lives into our teachers, our guides and the sojourners on our path.