Do actions speak louder than words?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

We often speak in terms of the "breadth and depth" of things. When we do that, we're in essence wondering or asking whether our behaviors match our words and/or our declarations. For example, one of the subjects I teach in my Introductory to Sociology class is a chapter on religion and one of the things we discuss is the breadth and depth of religious belief.

More than 75 percent of all Americans define themselves as Christians (breadth) but only 40 percent SAY they attend religious services on a regular basis and only 25 percent actually DO (depth). Eighty percent of American teenagers say that the Ten Commandments are ethical rules to follow in living one's life (breadth) but two-thirds of them can't name more than five of the commandments (depth).

Of the three-fourths of Americans who say they are Christians (breadth), 40 percent of them can't name the four gospels and more than 60 percent don't know who delivered the Sermon on the Mount (depth). In other words, for many their behaviors don't match their words.

We see the same thing happen in many areas of our lives where we say one thing and do something else and, in particular, relationships. For anyone in a serious loving relationship with another person, it's crucial that our behaviors (depth) match up with our words (breadth). If they don't, at best it causes confusion in our minds and, at worst, it dooms the relationship to eventual failure.

Complex, sophisticated language is the one thing that separates us from all other living things on the planet and language is made up of stand-alone words. When these independent words are strung together in a sentence or sentences, they are designed to not only provide and impart information to another person but to give us insight into the motivation behind the words as well.

So words are important. Words provide meaning to our world. Whether they are complimentary or deleterious, admiring or critical, angry or loving, words are designed specifically to tell us what's going on in the mind of the person speaking the words. People who are criticized constantly lose faith in themselves and develop negative self-concepts; people who are praised, supported, admired, loved, and lifted up gain faith in themselves and develop positive self-concepts. One of the Christmas gifts my son, Will, gave me was professional golfer John Daly's autobiography and Daly talks early and often about growing up watching his dad frequently lose control of himself and striking out against anything or anyone who was around. So it's not surprising that Daly does the same thing. He tells many tales in his book of destroying property, and striking out at people as well because he suffers from a severe lack of self-control too. We are what we learn.

Words reside at the core of all intimate loving relationships. One of the complaints heard most by women who are in supposedly loving relationships is that their husband or boyfriend doesn't tell them often enough that they love them. When men are asked about this, the common response is that they work hard, they provide food, clothes and shelter, they don't mess around and because they're doing what they think they're supposed to do, that should be proof of their love without having to say it.

In situations like this, we have behaviors not supported by words instead of words not being supported by behavior. What most people in the world want and need is both. We need to hear the words AND see the appropriate behavior. If either one is missing, it damages the relationship in the long run and often leads to its ultimate demise. In other words, a happy long-term relationship must have both breadth AND depth. When we're in a loving relationship, we sometimes ask the other person if they love us or how much do they love us. We ask these things because we need to hear them tell us. But if they don't respond enthusiastically or if their behaviors don't support the affirmations they make to us, rather than the words making us feel better, they actually make us feel worse; often leaving us dazed and confused because we can't really figure out what's going on in their heart and in their mind.

The fewer secrets and questions there are in relationships, the better the relationship will be. When we say the words we need to say often enough and back them up with behavior that supports and enhances the words, it leads to passion, commitment and ultimate eternal faith in the other person and the relationship we've forged with them.

When we don't, we go through every day wondering, questioning, and doubting the other person's words AND behaviors, as well as the relationship itself.

Of all the things we need to be sure about in this precarious and temporary life we lead, being secure in the loving relationship we have with another person is at the very top of the list.

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