This wise teaching has been around for generations. Many of you heard your parents, or grandparents, repeat this phrase many times when you were teenagers perhaps. At that time of life, many us were fond of offering lots of words to excuse our poor actions.
In today’s world, why is this teaching even more important to keep alive?
Words Will Often Deceive Us!
There is a myriad of ways in which words deceive us. Some are obvious, and others are not. However, it’s important to keep all of these ‘deceptions’ in mind, particularly when raising children in these times dominated by words upon more words.
1. Words Can Simply Be Lies.
This is the most obvious, and perhaps easily recognized. While integrity is important for many, there are also many for whom integrity doesn’t matter. We cannot be naïve when dealing with the world inside our home or outside.
People lie. Teenagers lie. Children lie. Friends and family will lie. This is reality.
However, I don’t have to think to myself, ‘Oh, everyone lies.’ This is not helpful. It generates mistrust, and a fearful mind filled with doubt and anxiety. So instead, I suggest that you realize that you can trust your child, your teenager, and the world outside to do what is self-serving. This is what we might call ‘human nature.’
Now, what is critical to understand is that we are all a bit different, and yet quite the same. What lets some sleep well at night through an integral life is completely irrelevant to another, whether teenager, employee, co-worker, contractor, salesperson, or politician. Thus, some can lie with ease while many simply can not live that way. Why is it that way, you might ask?
2. Those Words/Lies Protect Our View of Ourselves (i.e., Ego)
It’s all about protection! Those who easily lie and distort are always protecting something. Your teenager is protecting their desired lifestyle perhaps, staying up late and cheating the rules to stay online till 2 am. The contractor might be protecting their mortgage from going into default, while your co-worker might be protecting themselves from the consequences of stealing from the company. The CEO or politician might be protecting themselves from a loss of power. These examples could go on, but it’s useful to understand the role of what we call the ‘ego.’
Ego: the view we hold of ourselves, our self-concept/self-esteem. The ‘ego’ can be rock solid, or absurdly fragile, depending upon upbringing and experiences. When the ego is strong, we own our mistakes and will not compromise integrity for any reason. When fragile and weak, the ‘ego’ must hide mistakes, lie about reality and comfortably ‘make up stuff’ to get or keep what we want. While somewhat oversimplified, it’s useful to understand human nature.
3. Words Also Make Us Think We Did Something When Truth Be Told: We Did Nothing.
This is perhaps the most subtle and important note to take from this article. Many of us end up talking to our children, instructing them in some important life lesson for the 27th time, and we think we did something of value. We end up talking and talking to our kids, thinking this is relationship building. We can even end up talking/complaining to friends or family about the same topics (e.g., spouses, bosses, co-workers, politics, or siblings) and thinking this is useful in some way.
Whether trying to teach life lessons or complaining about life, the same conclusion applies: such repeated words are not useful. They make us feel better in the moment. But that is typically the end of it. Nothing else functional or of value occurs.
We do not feel better in the long run. Our children do not ever seem to get the lesson. Our frustration with life, children, siblings, spouses, etc. never seems to get better, if we only find ourselves investing in words and more words. None of the real changes we seek happen when we keep participating with an endless stream of words.
Bottom Line: Words Tend to Produce More Words. Not Valued Action or Results.
We seem addicted to those words, both our own and those of others. We keep producing them, and listening to them when what we all really want is more action…better action… and action leading to results that matter.
We don’t want to hear more excuses. We don’t want to hear more complaints. We don’t want to have more frustration.
The answer is to turn your life toward action. Require more action from yourself. If dissatisfied with something or someone, stop complaining about it. Stop talking about it. Instead, come up with an action plan; whether that be for your parenting plan, your marriage, or your extended family. Seek to limit words and incorporate more action that matters.
Likewise, in your work life or your community, how can you become more action-oriented and reduce words, especially those that keep repeating themselves week after week? Force yourself to stop talking about problems you see or experience and come up with an action plan that frees you to be part of a solution. Bring a plan of action into your home that has few words attached to behavior change and requires observable accomplishments.
So just remember: Actions Do Speak Louder than Words…When for Much of What Matters!