By Mark E. Smith
As a writer, I have a profound distrust for words. Yes, there’s an honest place for them in the literary sense in that they’re tools of the trade, including this essay.
However, on an interpersonal level, words carry little weight, where actions, in fact, don’t just speak louder than words, but are the only true measure of one’s character. If you want to genuinely know someone, ignore what they say, and look at what someone does.
Now, when I say judge one’s character by actions, not words, I don’t mean the small stuff. We all innocently say to others sentiments that may not hold true, but that doesn’t reflect one’s core character. Plans change, other obligations pop up and sometimes we simply forget a task we’ve agreed to perform. These don’t reflect our core character, but rather being human. As hard as I try to stay organized, the volume of tasks in front of me each day sometimes means that I forget something that someone needs – it happens to all of us.
Rather, I’m talking about core character traits, where one’s overall actions define who one truly is, not one’s words. A great example that I can relate to is being a father – that’s not about words, but actions at the most fundamental level. Fathers will boast how much they love their children, yet not be involved in their lives. How can one claim to love one’s child, but is absent? It’s a contradiction where we have to go by the actions, not the words. We know a father truly loves his child when he’s involved and present in his child’s life. If you want to know the quality of a father, observe what he does, not what he says. This likewise applies to everyone around us – that is, if you want to know the quality of one’s character, simply observe one’s actions.
I read a great book, The Gift of Fear, years ago and it spoke to avoiding becoming a victim of crime. The author spoke to never, ever trusting anything that a criminal says. As the author noted, if a man puts a gun to you in a mall parking lot and says, “Get in your car, and if you do what I say I won’t hurt you,” don’t get in the car, as statistically if you do, you’re going to end up dead. If someone puts a gun to you, he or she is demonstrating extremely dangerous behavior, and you can’t trust anything he or she says.
The same goes for our personal lives. How many of us have had others say that they care about us, but demonstrate the complete opposite? We simply can’t trust the empty characters of those whose actions don’t match their words, or worst of all, hurt us. And, it’s not hard to figure out. If one’s flowery words follow a pit in our stomach, then there’s something wrong. People who truly care about us don’t just say it, they demonstrate it consistently.
And, have you ever noticed that those who criticize us are always – and I mean always! – the least qualified to do so? Successful, healthy people don’t criticize others. Rather, it’s always someone like your uneducated, out-of-shape, broke, alcoholic in-law telling you all that’s wrong with you. Again, consider the source, and if one’s actions don’t match one’s words, there’s zero credibility, so never lend an ear to such criticism. To use a Texas idiom, never put faith in someone who’s all hat and no cattle.
Of course, we’re not exempt. We, too, should live by our actions, not our words. Let us lead with our actions, not merely spout what we think sounds good. As parents, saying we love our children is not enough; rather, let us show our love with presence, dedication and engagement. As partners and spouses, let us not merely utter the words I love you, but let us demonstrate it with attentiveness, respect and passion. And, as leaders in our career fields and communities, let us not simply boast of our abilities, but let’s truly accomplish tasks and serve others. Indeed, let us live our lives not based on rhetoric, but based on our demonstrated efforts.
In these ways, the cliché is true – and life-changing. Not only do actions speak louder than words, but actions pretty much say it all. If you want a true gauge of those in your life – as well as your own integrity – ignore words, assess actions, and let that be the true measure that drives your relationships to the healthiest levels.