When actions don’t speak louder than words
You probably know the proverb as well as I do, “Action speaks louder than words.“I don’t even remember when I first heard of it or when it nestled in my nest of practical advice for living well. The general idea of the proverb is to judge people by what they do and not by what they say.
According to Grammarist (and probably many other sources), the proverb dates back to a sermon given by Saint Anthony of Padua in the 1200s. You might think that anything since the 1200s must be on pretty solid ground. Unfortunately, you, like St. Anthony, would be wrong.
Separating what people say from what they do relies on an inaccurate, or at least incomplete, understanding of how we work. Talking is just as much a part of our Do like knitting or meditating or landing the Jurkowska-Kowalska disassembly. The crux of the matter depends on what we mean when we talk about what people do.
In a nutshell, what we do is achieve goals.
From before our first breath until our very last, all of our activity is focused on the task of keeping things the way we want them to be. Our goals are our desires. They are also our needs, our preferences, our ambitions, our habits, our inclinations, our dreams, our points of reference, our routines and our desires. We have many, many ways to describe the relentless task of making sure the things we care about stay the way we want them to.
Some goals, like a stable body temperature, take care of themselves without too much conscious oversight on our part. Other desires, such as a long and happy marriage, demand a great deal of our attention. We have relatively simple objectives and much more complex objectives. Each of us is a uniquely beautiful kaleidoscopic menagerie of stipulations about how we love ourselves and our world. The constellation of goals that we assemble is our model of life. It is who and what we are.
The children are playing football.
Saying a word is just as much an action as snapping your fingers or kicking a ball. They are all part of our action. We can increase the saltiness of our food by saying, “Would you please pass the salt?” or grabbing the salt shaker. Both methods are actions and means to get what we want.
It is certain that the actions that people produce can be contradictory. We all probably know people who, from time to time, seem to “say one thing but do another”. If you buy into what I’m suggesting here, you might now think of them as people who “do one thing and also do another”. Why could this happen?
Again, it all comes down to goals. We can use words to achieve goals, and we can use other actions to achieve goals. If one of my goals is to impress you, it’s much easier to use words to say “I just got 95% on my chemistry exam” than to spend the hours to produce a result of 95%.
We won’t get a clear understanding of what people are doing by simply focusing on their actions, whether those actions produce words or something else. We must constantly keep in mind the invisible and omnipotent goals behind all action.
The shares are still on the goals. The environment is also important.
People often need to use different shares in different environments to achieve same results. A teenager might use the words, “I really did pass that chemistry test. I got 95%” and “I really bombed that chemistry exam, but who needs chemistry anyway? I couldn’t bother to study for it,” to achieve the same goal of impressing others, depending on whether their environment at the time contains parents or peers.
The lens perspective provides an opportunity to rethink our ideas about truth and lies, honesty and dishonesty. When someone produces a string of words that doesn’t seem to correspond to an actual event or occurrence, thinking about contextual goals that might be relevant might help clarify the situation.
While on a family vacation, maybe Shiloh says to Kai, “Are you checking your work email again?”
“Absolutely not!” Kai responds with a quick swipe of the smartphone screen. “So which movie did we choose?”
“Kai, we were planning where to go for dinner.”
“Oh! Yes, of course. I understand.”
Shiloh might be annoyed by what appears to be a blatant lie on Kai’s part and reneging on a deal they had made, or what might be more interesting might be thinking about the most important goals in mind. of Kai. Kai may have a goal to enjoy this family time together and another goal to maintain a good impression with an overbearing and demanding manager. Discussions about goals and how to achieve them can be helpful in increasing contentment and harmony in individuals and relationships. This is not a comment or judgment on the morality of truth, but a suggestion for deepening our appreciation of ourselves and others.
Shares don’t speak louder than words. Words are Shares. To understand another person as clearly as possible, we need to consider everything they do in terms of the goals they might be aiming for and the environments they are setting them in.
Goals are what it’s all about. The actions, including the words we produce, are what we do to ensure that we continue to live in the world the way we love it.