Actions Reveal Our Values

“Actions speak louder than words.”

It’s a lovely mantra. Great for fortune cookies. But I think it’s lost its meaning, which makes sense, after all… they’re just words…

Just like this post — more words. (One could argue that my method is undermining my content, and they would be right.)

But I want to talk about some of my actions because I think they do more than “speak louder than words” — they reveal our true values.

It was a cold night. A blizzard had rolled in. And because I’m a horny, single man with a problematic relationship to sex, I braved the storm to hook up with a man.

On the way home, deed done and a smile on my face, I passed a homeless man, huddled up underneath an overpass, trying to keep warm on a horrible winter night.

As I turned to get on the freeway, it all registered, and I began to think:

“I should turn around and help that man. Maybe put him up in a hotel. He could honestly die with the weather like this. But I’m already on the freeway and the snow is falling. It would be risky turning around. And it’s already late. It’s past midnight. I need to get home. I’m exhausted.”

Conscience satisfied with my good intentions and justifications, I kept driving.

But in this moment, my actual values bloomed:

I value my comfort more than my fellow man, not wanting to get out of my warm car.

I value pleasure more than my fellow man, braving the dangerous storm for casual sex.

I value my safety more than my fellow man, refusing to gamble on letting a stranger into my car.

I value my sleep more than my fellow man, reciting the time as an excuse to not turn around.

I value my convenience more than my fellow man, unwilling to turn my car around and add a few hours to my already late night.

I value myself more than my fellow man…

But to cope with my wretchedness, I think good thoughts and write good words. I pat my heart on the back, saying, “Look at you wanting to help. What a good lad!” I write a post where I talk about choosing a fellow man, comforting myself with the thought that I’m challenging humanity to do better.

But I’m not doing better because actions cost something, and because they cost something, they reveal what we actually value.

They reveal true beliefs… true convictions… because actions cost time, convenience, energy, reputation.

And maybe this is why the brother of Jesus wrote, “Faith without works is dead,” or why Mayur Ramgir said, “Your actions define your character, your words define your wisdom, but your treatment of others defines the REAL you.”

Because it is in the light of actions that our true nature is brought into focus, and therefore, brought into judgment, and what is the verdict?

Whether by association with some religious creed or by a personal conviction, who do you claim to be? What are the thoughts and opinions you have of yourself? And are your actions in alignment with those thoughts and beliefs about yourself?

If they’re not, my argument (or rather my projection) is that what we do reveals our true nature. Not our good intentions. Not our associations. Not our thoughts or words.

Instead, we dim the lights on who we truly our by justifying it with good intentions, associations, words, thoughts, creeds… We blur the lines. We force it out of focus. Putting our nature in the corners of our consciousness so we can cope, claiming we’re somehow good.

But what is our true nature, lurking in the shadows, exposed by our actions, or rather, our lack of actions? And is it more sinister than we’d like to think.

The need to be right rules as we fight our enemies and friends to claim the moral high ground.

The need to not be alone reigns as we refuse to challenge those we love.

The need for significance wins as we post another trendy idea or picture to get likes and admiration.

The need to be safe triumphs so we consistently view the world as us versus them, whether in nationality, policy, or creed.

Underneath the kind words and thoughts, underneath the “good intentions,” what’s there? What do your actions reveal about you? And what would you like to change?

For me, I would like to let schedules lose to meaningful connections; I would like to forgo convenience for the sake of human decency, and I would like to squash self-indulgent pleasure with the longer-lasting joy of developing character, becoming someone I’m proud of.

But those things don’t happen because I want them. They happen with one choice. And then another. And then another. And then another. And in the wake of those choices, my true nature forged — not happened upon, not discovered — forged. With every action.

What do your actions say about you? And are we brave enough to lisent to what they have to say?

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