‘Words don’t define you, actions do.’
You’ve probably heard or been told the above at some point, or at least something similar with the same intent behind it. Perhaps, ‘put your money where your mouth is’ or ‘you talk the talk, now walk the walk’, might sound more familiar. Essentially, saying something is only one part of your character. It is only through living our words, through doing and our behaviors, that we create an authentic self.
This expression has been close to my heart for many years. It’s kept me from making empty promises and forced me to show up at times when it’s been incredibly difficult. It’s guided me through some challenging conversations and helped me follow through with behaviors that proved I meant what I said. These have been the times when action made the biggest difference. It’s forced me to face up to aspects of my character that needed to change and helped me grow into a more authentic version of who I want to be. It’s also helped me to make decisions about people in my life who would say the right things but never delivered. Back when I was dating, this sentiment helped me create a stern approach to empty statements and bold claims when in reality their behavior was less than anything I wanted to allow into my life.
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” — Brene Brown
As someone who derives a lot of personal joy from writing, words, and language, that might seem a bit at odds. Recent experience has had me ruminating on the impact of our words — not only on those around us — but our beliefs about our character too.
As a writer, I have to concede that at times my words will define me. Many people who read something I write will never meet me. Wrongly or rightly they will begin to create their own definition of who I am based on the words I air out into the internet. Isn’t that the same for most of us? It need not be essays or blog articles, even the social media captions that we tweak and edit to align with the idea of who we want others to believe we are, the words of others that we acknowledge and share under our name, the platitudes and comments we share (and who or where we chose to share them) all add to this idea that our words create a definition of who we want to be. Many of us will live into this persona, to some extent, but rarely in totality. You will often find gaps between what is presented online and what is delivered in reality.
Trouble arises when we are faced with a situation that confronts the definition we have worked hard to create with our online words. It was this scenario, someone failing to formulate their online self with the presentation of reality, I found myself on the periphery of recently.
“A lot of the conflict you have in your life exists simply because you’re not living in alignment; you’re not be being true to yourself.” — Steve Maraboli
A personal lesson I learned the hard way was that our ideas of personal growth are truly fictional until we are faced with the opportunity to live them. These are the times that call for our greatest courage, that force us to crack like seeds as a new pattern of growth finally emerges. It demands a new way of being and showing up. You can choose to accept the lesson and live into it — or not.
It was the lack of this courage that I observed in my recent experience that left a bitter taste in my mouth. Being confronted with an individual who has seemingly worked hard to create a certain persona, but who fails to live it through their actions (and their words in this instance) can create knots of annoyance. I was left reviewing the words of an individual who was faced with a slice of reality that didn’t suit the carefully edited mirage they had created for themselves. The result was a dramatic attempt to manipulate through old ways of being and secure a response that would reassert their notions of who they are, with no care for any other parties involved.
It’s easy to feel angry and reach for more words in these situations. To fight ‘fire with fire’ and let the person know that you see the misalignment in their character, how they want others to believe they are versus how they are actually behaving. It’s easy to slip into the old grooved neural pathways and respond to their tactics of manipulation. To ‘give them what they want’ as it were. It’s harder to dig deep and grab hold of courage and empathy. To stop and reflect, perhaps they genuinely don’t realize?
You may have grown, but that doesn’t mean they have.
It’s at times like these that I remember this favored sentiment of mine and I know that sometimes the best action, the best message, is simply nothing at all. Silence is a strong tool when letting people know their false narratives are no longer welcome in our lives.
For me, it’s been a timely reminder to ensure I’m living authentically — through both my words and my actions, both on and offline. To meditate on the gratitude I have for the path I’ve been down so far and the ample opportunities ahead. And to extend a little empathy towards those who are still living through their own versions of challenge (even if I do so a little begrudgingly at times. There’s my little slice of authenticity to accompany these words).
“But above all, in order to be, never try to seem.” — Albert Camus