“Talk with one’s back” is an expression in my mother tongue used to describe someone who leads by example. It is implied that if you can talk with your back, you have values and beliefs that require no words but can be understood by your actions, or you have skills and techniques that cannot be taught in words but can only be learned by watching you in action.
I always remind myself of this expression when I dress myself in traditional wear. I never used to wear them (for those used to Western clothing, it is too much of a fuss to put on and proper maintenance is extremely bothersome!), until I started taking lessons in a certain traditional art. I can still remember what my teacher told me the first time I wore them to a lesson.
I had just learned how to put them on, so naturally I was extremely nervous how I looked in them. I checked myself in the mirror countless times, making sure everything was in the right place and not falling apart. It did not look perfect, but I thought I could give it a passing grade. But my teacher immediately gave me and “F” when she saw first me, and kept failing me during the lesson – I had missed to check my backside.
It so happened that the form of traditional art I was learning would have us performing showing our backs to the majority of the audience for the majority of time. So it was just as important for us to show our mastery of skills as well as the spirit of the art with our backs as it was with our faces and words. My teacher told me to always be conscious of my backside, for that is where I would really be judged.
Maybe we are too often concerned of how we appear to others face to face, we put too much effort in glorifying our front side to impress.
But maybe it is actually how we leave, rather than how we appear, that gives a stronger impression to others.
Maybe it is how we talk (or fail to talk) with our backs that leaves a lasting impression of ourselves.
I am liking more and more getting dressed in traditional wear. I take a little more time to check the appearance of the backside than the front side. I try to keep my back a little straighter. I am a little more conscious of how I pass by others, just in case they turn back to take one more look at me. And this consciousness is starting to stay with me longer and longer, even after I take the traditional wear off.
Maybe we do not all lead by example.
But maybe people listen to what our backs say a lot more than we think.
Maybe we make lasting impressions with our backs more often than we think.
Then maybe it is best we watch our backs when we leave!