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Friday, December 31, 2004

Words v. Actions

Memorial of St. Sylvester I

Origins Part III:

The long-awaited sequel is here--OK maybe not "long-awaited," probably more like awaited with a hint of passing curiosity... Anyway, now I finally begin a response to the responses to the message of GH&N (Gratitude, Hope, and Needling). I received a couple of e-mails that referred to some list of concerns with re-electing President Bush. (Here comes a really long sentence...) Rather than respond in kind, or in a tit-for-tat manner, about which I seriously doubt that I'd be able to sustain self-interest in my own response to even complete it (frankly, it has already been done--to death--by hundreds of others in recent weeks over a range of issues--the morality angle, the security angle, the economy angle), I will first respond to what may have been the single most innocuous item:

"actions and results speak louder than words, so i didn't listen much to what kerry and bush had to say, but i do watch to see what they have done."

"Actions speak louder than words." Who can disagree with that? I really can't, or at least I didn't when I first read it. After all, it's a useful rule of thumb. Ah, but therein lies a rub; more a potential problem, but a rub nonetheless. My next thought was that there have been plenty of words in the past that were plenty loud, even if the actions may have been a little louder, for example:

“Your faith has healed you.”

“Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”

“Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Or skipping ahead a bunch of centuries:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…”

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

“Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
Or here’s a couple more recent ones where the words were louder than the actions:
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

“I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it.”
Do actions speak louder than words? Sometimes, usually, but that’s only part of what makes them interesting. From the quotes above, and what effects they create, it is clear that words are also actions. Emerson, among others, noted that actions are a kind of words, as well. They interact.

Consider now the question of why bother inspecting actions and words in the first place. It is to be able to infer the intent of another. Based on words and actions I can estimate what somebody‘s motives are, or I can similarly validate my own intent. Once I have (an estimate of) intent, I now can assess two things: first, the direction of any act; second, the success of any act in producing reasonable results (the fruit). With the plane of intent vs. results, I have a way to compare in an objective reference frame, to locate where I am as a person vs. where I ought to be. Similarly, I can assess who you are vs. who you ought to be, where so-and-so is leading vs. where so-and-so ought to lead, etc. Here enters the rub.

When I deny that my inference is just that, and I impose my own notion of what somebody’s intention must be, I have jumped on the bullet train to solipsism (It is right because I will it so). When this happens in political debate, we get the kind shrill emotivism that leads self-styled Troglodytes to grumble, “Friedrich’s back,” as they shuffle back to the cave.

It’s not a question of actions or words, but actions and words, just like all the other ways we distinctively perceive reality by avoiding the false dichotomy, through: nature and grace, faith and works, intellect and emotion, body and soul, faith and reason, charismatic and institutional, discipleship and hierarchy, visible and invisible, etc. Thus we can indeed see things in their true dimensions, which is how can become the kind of people who can see (then love) God, as He intended forever.

Next up: Scoreboard is Scoreboard

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