All Hat, No Cattle

SHOWME

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.

At the End of the Tunnel

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By Mark E. Smith

In my roles within the mobility industry, I often encounter very difficult situations. No, I don’t mean broken wheelchairs or grumpy customers – those are typically easy to resolve. Rather, the difficult situations I face are families in emotional crises, where a husband is newly paralyzed or parents have lost a child to a progressive condition like muscular dystrophy. And, along that harrowing road over the past 15 years, I’ve seen such families turn tragedy into triumph, while others crumbled into ruins. What is it, then, that separates these two outcomes? What is it that allows couples to survive devastating circumstance while others dissolve?

I’m not a psychologist or a sociologist, nor have I done any scientific studies. But, I am a real, thinking, feeling person with empathy toward those facing adversity – I’ve been there and I know what it’s like. And, as I’ve been in the trenches with families in crises, I’ve observed two very distinct factors that allow couples to face and overcome life’s most profound tragedies, actually strengthening relationships, not destroying them.

The first is factor that successful couples have in the face of adversity is unyielding love and respect for each other. Now, all couples will say that they have unyielding love and respect for each other, and it seems obvious that couples would have this. But, we live in a culture where relationships are about as sacred as trip through a drive-thru, and there’s too often very little respect among partners. Think about couples around you, or maybe your own relationship, where each individual makes him or herself the priority, not the relationship or partner. Or, think about how moodiness, arguing and name calling are deemed acceptable by many. Those are traits of dishonor and disrespect, and when crisis hits, such couples are doomed. In crises, the blame-game ensues and rather than protecting each other’s hearts, they go for the jugular.

However, surviving couples are different. Mutual respect reigns over moodiness, arguing and name calling. Surviving couples run toward the safety and shelter of their relationship during crises, not away from it. There’s a sanctity to the relationship that’s upheld, serving as an unconditional safety net during crises.

Statistically, the average length of marriage prior to divorce is eight years. Why eight years? Money magazine recently reported that over any 10-year period, we have a 98% chance of facing a major life crisis, albeit financial, health-related, and so on. Therefore, if we’re in rocky relationships, and are all but certain to face a crisis, of course it’s just a matter of time before it’s game over, logically right around that 8-year mark.

Yet, truly loving, respectful couples ultimately find crises as opportunities to grow close together. So, at eight years, having faced crises and embraced each other, their commitment is stronger. A couple simply has to have unyielding love and respect to weather crises. I have yet to meet a couple who’s stayed together through a life-changing crisis who didn’t have a foundation of unyielding love and respect for each other.

The second trait that I’ve found couples must have in order to survive a life-changing crisis is a sense of a higher power. Now, I don’t mean formal religion – although it’s often the case – but a true belief in a guiding force that everything happens for a reason, with larger meaning and purpose. This is such a powerful tool toward coping and healing because it often explains the inexplicable.

I was born with severe cerebral palsy. If I looked at that as a random act, solely making me suffer, can you imagine how bleak my world view would be – there’d be no purpose for my life. However, if I truly believe that there’s a purpose to why I received cerebral palsy, I then naturally look for the positives, giving my life purpose and meaning. Couples who succeed through tragedy do exactly this – that is, they share a belief in a larger purpose and meaning to all. If one or both partners are bitter or resentful over a crisis, again, they’ll go for the jugular, not the heart – and the relationship won’t survive. Both partners must believe in a higher power of meaning and purpose.

What I know is that given enough time – statistically within a 10-year period – couples will face crises. And, having witnessed many families experience the most harrowing of circumstances, I can attest to this fact: As long as you and your partner have unyielding love and respect, and believe in a larger meaning and purpose to all, you’ll make it hand-in-hand to the light at the end of the tunnel.

Learning to Hold Hands

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By Mark E. Smith

We’ve all known the phrase, It’s better to give than to receive. And, I can tell you that there’s a lot of merit to it. I know that for me, realizing that I’ve made a difference in someone’s life is exceptionally rewarding. I do right because it’s right, and I certainly don’t expect anything in return. But, it feels really good to know that I’ve supported someone’s efforts in a situation that I can relate to, assisting out of respect and appreciation for him or her.

Yet, there’s tremendous merit to receiving, too – and, as a culture and individuals, we do a horrible job at it. Nod your head if you’ve ever felt awkward, undeserving or guilty upon receiving. I’m nodding my head with you! Maybe it’s been something as simple as allowing a friend to treat us to lunch, or as profound as receiving love from our partner. No matter, we can struggle far more with receiving than giving – and we need to resolve that in each of our lives before it takes its toll. The fact is, a sure way to self-sabotage ourselves in ways ranging from subtle guilt to destroying important relationships is to not feel comfortable or worthy of receiving from those who care about us.

As a child of alcoholics, I wasn’t raised to receive. If you’ve ever been around any sort of addict, you know that the nature of addiction is that it’s fed, including by family members, where you’re on the hook, so to speak, to give, give and give, to a disturbingly unhealthy degree. And, in that process, you either never learn to receive or you lose your ability to feel comfortable receiving – and that happened to me. I never truly learned to receive graciousness, care and concern from others. And, it led me to feel unsettled later in life when others, with absolutely pure intentions, strove to give to me, where my emotions ranged from uncomfortable to guilt and shame. One area of contention in my life that I take ownership of is that in the past, I struggled to allow others in my life to physically assist me in my daily needs due to my disability. And, it frustrated and hurt some around me. At times, those close to me wanted to assist me with certain aspects of my everyday routines out of love and appreciation, and I didn’t know how to receive that. I knew how to give, give and give, but I didn’t know how to let others support me, I didn’t know how to receive. And, so rather than receive, I chose to struggle physically and emotionally, sometimes self-defeatingly pushing people away.

However, it was my daughter and my ultimately being a father that taught me to receive. I mean, when your 4-year-old makes you an “I Love You, Daddy” card, how can you not soak that in to the depths of your heart and receive such an unconditional act of love? As a result, I’ve had the blessing over the last 17 years – and, it’s been a learning process! – of knowing the joy of receiving in so many amazing ways, including unconditional love.

Of course, in the process of raising my daughter, I’ve done a tremendous amount of giving. After all, that’s what we do as parents – that is, we give to our children in the purest ways possible, putting them before ourselves, period. Yet, that form of giving has also been a life-changing experience for me because it’s stemmed from the healthiest of places – the heart – a complete contrast to where I gave to addicts as an adolescent out of a skewed sense of obligation, guilt and inappropriate placements of responsibility upon me.

All of this has led me to among the most profound life lessons that any of us can carry. Relating with those close to us isn’t about giving or receiving, after all. Rather, relating with others around us is truly about reciprocation. See, if we’re going to have the healthiest relationships, we must give and receive. What’s wonderful is that this doesn’t mean we give and receive in the same ways, but that when we do for others, we’re comfortable with them doing for us in different but no less meaningful ways. See, reciprocation is about the sincerity of the emotion itself, not its product. I’m 43 and my daughter is 17, so obviously we have very different needs and different abilities to offer. Yet, while I make every attempt to meet her needs, she equally strives to support mine. I may surprise her with a gift that she’s really wanted, as I have the ability to buy it; whereas, she may surprise me with a home-cooked meal. We have a constant volley, where we both intuitively support each other, reciprocating in different but sincere ways. This principle applies not just to parent-child relationships, but all relationships. If, with our romantic partners, we let down our guard and truly know that we’re worthy of not just giving, but receiving, as well, our relationships – and our hearts! – will flourish because nothing is holding us back from loving and being loving.

Giving to others in the most unconditional spirit truly is rewarding. However, it’s heartwarming and soothing to the soul to likewise receive from others. Let us give, and let us receive. Most of all, let us reciprocate, where, together with those we care about, hands hold hands.

A Man’s Entirety

Paul and Mark's Little Sister (1985)
Paul and Mark’s Little Sister (1985)

By Mark E. Smith

Maybe it’s what literature or movies have bred into our culture, that people are either good or bad, but one week after Paul’s death, I can tell you that it’s possible – and more common than we’d like to think – for people to be both. And, for me, Paul was both, for 35 years, which might be why I’ve always called him Dad or Paul, based on the circumstance.

Paul entered my life as Paul, a 34-year-old bachelor attorney when I was eight. My biological father had left, and my mom met Paul during some legal matter. My mom was an alcoholic and an addict, but was exceptionally attractive, and that caught Paul’s eye. Yet, as I would watch unfold till both of their deaths, Mom and Paul were a toxic mix that led to circumstances that my brother, sister and I can’t believe any of us survived – and Mom and Paul ultimately didn’t.

Paul started life as a military brat, son of a full-bird colonel who flew with Charles Lindbergh, no less, and was a highly-decorated WWII fighter pilot. Grandpa Jim, as I knew him, was never a touchy-feely kind of guy. He was a hard-drinking, cigarette-smoking man’s man, with a tall stature and broad chest to match. And, he expected Paul and his brother to be in line all the time. Both boys ended up at military academies, and Paul graduated from King’s Point, embarking on an officer’s career navigating commercial ships around the globe, pulling in an astounding $10,000 per month in the 1970s. Paul put the money to good use, paying his way through law school and buying a farmhouse on some land. And, that’s when my mom began dating him, a relationship that through my eight-year-old eyes had all the promise in the world.

Yet, there was more to it than that for me. Not only did Paul seem a knight in shining armor to pull us out of poverty, but he genuinely took to me. My own father didn’t just drink and walk out on us, but till the day of his death in my 30s, there’s no doubt he was ashamed that I had a disability. Yes, it was my father’s issues, and I always tried to have some empathy because he was so troubled, but I couldn’t help but carry the burden of that shame. However, Paul demonstrated the opposite, genuinely loving and embracing of me. He took me hunting and fishing, sometimes carrying me on his back for miles. And, after my mother and he married, he took me almost everywhere he went, always referring to me as his son. It was a different world, where for the first time I felt a sense of acceptance. And, it was then that Paul became Dad to me.

But, it all was a tale of two cities. Dad was a loving, generous father, who showed me a world I never knew existed, from the great outdoors to socialite parties. However, there were the other sides of him that were horrific – Paul’s sides. He was a drinker, too, and I lay in bed every night hearing the liquor cabinet open and close countless times. My mother and he drank and argued nightly, where eventually he became physically abusive toward her, and they crashed around the house, keeping me constantly on edge. Paul could be a happy, docile drunk, or an enraged monster. Among the low points was on my 10th birthday when I came home from school to find my mom having slit her wrists in a suicide attempt, and as Paul rushed home, he’d been drinking since lunch and slammed his truck into a tree. It’s how life was.

By 1983, my younger sister was born, and Dad was a great father to her, too, loving her to no end. And his law practice thrived, complete with a beautiful old Victorian office right across the street from the courthouse. I remember people in our community being impressed by our family’s status at that point, with Dad running both a private practice and serving in the Public Defender’s office. It was round that time that Dad even took us on vacation to Maui.

But, it was all a facade. My mom was drunk around the clock, Paul started drinking at lunch, they were mired in debt, and the nights were so violent that it’s amazing no one died during those years, albeit from domestic violence, overdose, or suicide. Meanwhile, the three of us kids fended for ourselves. It’s a chaos that haunts me to this day, where loud noises at night in my home – my daughter slamming a cabinet door – triggers immediate fear in me, taking me right back in an instant. Some trauma just never grows out of us.

By 1988, my mom and Paul divorced, and both began an even sharper decline. My mom was a full-blown Skid Row kind of drunk, but Paul remained somewhat functional. And, it would be the next 10 years that truly taught me the fallacy of the term functional alcoholic.

After the divorce, I was 18 and on my own, taking care of my then 6-year-old sister when I could, and while my mom was a disaster, Paul tried to keep his life together and we remained very close. But, he drank daily, and I watched him throughout the 1990s lose everything. His house was foreclosed on, he lost his law practice, and ended up homeless, couch hopping at wealthy friends’ homes, wearing out his welcome. Meanwhile, I grew into my late 20s, with a wife, daughter, house, career, and graduate school, when Paul landed on our couch – and never left. By that point, he was a dishwasher at a friend’s restaurant and might have had two pairs of clothes as his sole possessions. True to form, by day he was great, an amazing grandfather to my daughter, and I could count on him for anything. However, while washing dishes at night, he just drank, coming home late and passing out on our family room couch. Eventually, I moved across the country, letting him live in that house till I sold it, at which time he moved to a camp ground. And, the entire decade demonstrated what happens to functional alcoholics: they slowly lose everything.

By his death, a week ago at this writing, Paul’s life had even more crazy twists and turns. While living at the campground, he met a woman half his age, with profound mental issues, and for the coming years, they lived a volatile life of poverty, alcoholism, and mental illness.

The last time I saw Dad was this past summer when he came east for Grandpa Jim’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. He was in such poor health and still drinking that I loaned him a mobility scooter. During that visit, my sister and I checked him into my local VA hospital, where he spent several weeks detoxing and getting a grim diagnosis that after decades of alcoholism, his organs were failing. After getting in good enough health to fly home from Pennsylvania to California, he took his next drink upon landing. He would never be without a drink again, even dying with alcohol in his system.

The King’s Point graduate who traveled the globe, became a successful attorney and a loving father died at 2:06 pm on December 31, 2013. However, the obituaries that tell that one-dimensional portrait, as obituaries do, rob Paul’s life of ultimate meaning. Rather, all should look at the entirety of such loved ones’ lives and not dismiss the entirety of the individual, but truly learn from his or her paths. Dad was a great main, Paul was a troubled man, and both teach us invaluable lessons in life. For me, some of those lessons are beautiful and some are haunting, but they’re lessons that ultimately gave Dad’s life a larger purpose, where when I look at the sober lives of my siblings and me, and the promising future of our combined seven children, Paul’s alcoholism and life descent wasn’t without reason, but a profound lesson for us to learn.

Vacationing With Jasper

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By Mark E. Smith

I’m not a formal vacation kind of guy. My career in complex rehab technology and serving my peers is a ’round-the-clock lifestyle that I’m more passionate than ever about after 15 years – and true vacations get in the way of that. In fact, I sold my boat because it was taking up too much time on the weekends during the summer. I just don’t have the desire to be off the grid long enough to truly disconnect in the way that others do, footloose and fancy free. When you come from nothing, work your way up the hard way, and know that you can go back to where you came from at any time, there’s an instinctive drive and work ethic that keeps you focused and dedicated, possibly to an obsessive degree.

However, in my latter years, especially with my daughter now 16, and wanting to give her life experiences that we all should be blessed enough to provide our children, I’ve done a fair amount of recreational travel in recent years. Even that, though, often ties into my career. I love Vegas, and, fortunately, my company has a manufacturing facility there, so on my own dime and time, I can spend, say, three days in Vegas, but still get to see colleagues as wished. Or, I was recently in Washington D.C. for a day relating to my daughter, and was able to drop by a disability-related conference, and visit with close peers. And, with an iPhone and iPad, I’m connected virtually anywhere, any time, so accessibility to work is always there.

Again, though, I do try to balance life a bit, so my one “vacation” this summer was a three-day stay at a self-proclaimed “luxury resort” in the Poconos, an hour from my house, focused on “world-class products and service that exceed expectations of the most experienced traveler.” My plan was peace and quiet, the ability to sleep, eat, check my online communications, and do it all over again – and based on the resort’s marketing, it seemed like the perfect place to do that. But, alas, not so.

See, it turns out that very wealthy people do a great job at making money, and a terrible job at picking where to take their completely ill-behaved kids on vacation. I hate to sound like a crotchety, old man, but my 16-year-old handles herself with the poise and grace of a socialite – and we live in a ranch house and drive a seven-year-old van. How come when your family flies into a resort via helicopter, you have everything but appropriately-behaved children? Heck, I’ve seen the TV show, Super Nanny, and reckon that if you can afford a helicopter, you can afford to hire someone to teach your kids discipline. Mom brought her collection of Prada purses, but apparently there wasn’t room to pack the kids’ manners!

So, I ended up at the so-called prestigious resort, with a quaint room and, in the dining room, a beautifully-reserved table for my included five-star meals – all the while surrounded by screaming, running kids, who had no parental guidance and nothing to do but bother me and others looking for tranquil elegance in a vacation.

Jasper was my favorite, and when I say favorite, I mean the kid that I most wanted to see trip and get rug burns on his knees. I only knew his name because his mom – who was admittedly smoking hot in her tennis skirts – constantly badgered him in an annoyingly-passive voice. Jasper, honey, please come sit with mommy and daddy, and eat your dinner, she said as Jasper played freakin’ airplane around the formal dinning room.

“Whatcha eatin’?” Jasper asked me, his head barely taller than my table.

“It’s deep-fried kid,” I replied. “And if you don’t get away from my table, you’ll be my desert.”

But, Jasper didn’t care what I said, or what his mom said, or what anyone said. It was his world, and we were just living in it.

And, so, there I was, at among supposedly the most exclusive resorts in the country, just wanting peace and quiet, and I ended up in the middle of dozens of preschoolers in Ralph Lauren polos – lead by Mommy’s little Jasper – acting like perpetual-motion pogo sticks, bouncing around the lodge like it was a barrel of monkeys.

So, I went to the one place that the terrible tykes couldn’t go: the bar. However, within minutes, there’s five-year-old Jasper starring at me again.

“Whatcha drinkin’?” he asked, his hands gripping the edge of my table.

“Boar’s blood,” I said.

“What’s that?” he asked, bouncing up and down on his invisible pogo stick.

“Why are you wearing girl’s shoes?” I asked, and he stopped bouncing, looking down at his Docksiders. “See that lady over there – she has the same shoes on. Girl shoes, just like you.”

I’m very observant, and just happen to notice that Jasper and a woman from Italy I’d met earlier wore identical boat shoes.

“These aren’t girl shoes,” he says, crossing his arms. “They’re boy shoes.”

“Now you’re crossing your arms like a girl,” I say. “First you dress like a girl, and now you gesture like one. I see a pattern here.”

Jasper just stared at me, stumped.

“Cat got your tongue?” I asked.

“I’m going to tell my mom on you,” Jasper retorted, pouting.

“Dude, you’re the one wearing girl’s shoes and crossing your arms,” I shouted as Jasper ran away.

Ultimately, Jasper and I became really good friends. I even laughed when he fell running across the lodge one afternoon, burning the tip of his nose as his face slid across an area rug.

Heavy Sky

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Now I’m a grown man, with a child of my own, and I swear I’m not going to let her know all of the pain that I’ve known. -Art Alexakis

By Mark E. Smith

When I was 17, I spent a lot of that summer camping in Yosemite’s White Wolfe region. It was part independence building, part adventure, part escape. I attended forestry seminars that summer, and learned that wild fires can prove good for the environment. Dense forests fill up with debris, and stifle new growth; however, a wild fire clears out the old, and allows new plants and trees to grow. What initially seems like destruction, actually builds a new, stronger habitat.

At that time, I wasn’t in touch with my father. He’d walked out on my brother and me many years earlier. We were little, maybe five and six, or a bit older – it’s hard to date such things, probably because it’s too painful to remember exactly when your father left. But, I remember.

Regardless of dates or circumstances, when your father drives away for the last time, it creates a void in you that many say never goes away – it’s just a heavy sky that’s left over you. And, as the seasons pass, you learn that other people, who you love, leave and don’t come back, either. It’s emotional dominoes set into motion by the man who’s supposed to be a boy’s hero, and you learn to just fall with them, relationship after relationship, where the fear of abandonment becomes the security of being alone.

Yet, you grow strong in ways, where you never distrust because there’s always a chance that someone might stay. You’re forever a seven-year-old starring out of the living room window, with the possibility that Dad might pull up in his pick-up truck, boozed up but playful. And, so you learn to trust in a counter-intuitive way – it’s the dream that’s the only comfort to hold onto.

And, you likewise learn to never leave anyone because you don’t want her or him to know the pain that you’ve known. Yes, everyone’s going to promise to be by you till the end, but who dare live up to it? You will live up to it because you won’t be like him.

And, then there is her, your own child, and as a broken man, there’s something remarkably whole about you in that single role, where your pieces come back together, and you see everyone around you in the sunlight of spring. It’s inexplicable that where only destruction has been, beauty emerges – a single flower among ravaged woods. And, you realize that the injustice of not having a father is corrected by being a father – the better man, you are for it all.

Empty Words

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By Mark E. Smith

The two symbolic, ground-breaking shovels that sit in the corner of his office catch my eye. One is gold-plated and the other, chrome. They’re the type of shovels that dignitaries and politicization use to pose with in a dirt patch when kicking-off a new development project. And, they’re leaning in the corner of his stately office, which clearly has not been remodeled since the 1980s, right down to worn leather chairs. But, all is spotless clean – even the shiny shovels.

I could picture him back in the day, likely slamming one of those shovels onto a board room table, and saying in a larger-than-life voice to his executive team, “Are we going to dig our own grave, or dig our way to the top?”

Yet, now he’s a kind, calm, soft-spoken older man, a proud grandfather. And, as he talks I feel a bit writer and a bit grandson. “Never trust words,” he says. “Flow charts, a good dresser, a great speaker – never trust any of it. Only trust results. When someone delivers, trust that. Trust whomever backs you in the trenches.”

And, for a moment, my eyes drift back to the shovels leaning in the corner, and I think about how true his words are, not just in business, but in life. As a writer and speaker, I’m a contradiction in that I’ve always distrusted words. It goes back to my mom and her always lying about not being drunk, my therapist would say. And, while maybe that’s where my distrust of words likely began, it runs more universally than that. I’ve learned that when we truly care about others, we don’t just say it, we show it. Show me you care about me, show me you love me – don’t just tell me. I’ve fallen for words too many times, only to be hurt by them – empty, hollow in the end, the words, me, all of it. You have, I have, we all have. And, what’s insane is that we continue wanting to hear them, the words, and believe in them – I’ll pick up the pace, I’ll make things right, I’ll quit doing it, I’ll change…. But, what’s any of it mean if there’s no action or effort behind the words?

The answer is, nothing. Here’s the fact: when we look and don’t listen – that is, when we gauge a person on what they do, not what he or she says – it’s the ultimate truth of what we mean to that person. No matter if it’s an employee, friend, or love interest, follow what one does, not what one says. Lots of people will say they’re there for you; but, who’s truly there in the sincerest ways? It quickly becomes a short list, doesn’t it?

And, yes, it’s a painful realization, but also a poignant one. See, in the process of realizing how adrift we are, alone at sea, we likewise realize who’s truly there for us, not in words, but in heart, soul, good times and bad. Words are so often an empty gesture; but, actions of the heart always prove true intent. Grab those who put their hearts and souls out there for you – hold on to them, truly trust in them, no longer adrift but anchored by them.

And, as he continues speaking, I stare at the shiny shovels, and again wonder why any of us still trust in words at all?