Existential Psychology

Trust Actions Over Words

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One of my favorite Thich Nhat Hanh lines is “Our actions are the ground upon which we stand.” It reminds us that ultimately it’s not our thoughts, emotions, or words that define us but the concrete behaviors we put out into the world. The problem with words is that you can use them to obscure the truth just as easily as you can use them to clarify it.

Our intellectual, analytic culture has grown so reliant on language that when confronted with a discrepancy between words and actions many of us are inclined to trust what is said about what has been done over what our own eyes and hearts tell us has been done. Trust actions over words if you want to know the truth of a person’s character.

One reason that words obscure the truth is that perception plays such a large role in human life. We could say that no two people have ever sat in the same room. The mental associations they make with the environment are dependent on their own life experiences and genetic makeup, and so the same words take on different meanings for different people.

Another reason words obscure the truth is that you don’t have to actually feel something deeply to say you feel it deeply, you don’t have to believe something is true to say it’s true, you can call genocide an ‘offensive’, you can call sadistic behavior ‘love’. You might even believe what you’re saying but your actions will always betray you. These actions become your destiny, not your thoughts, feelings, or intentions.