Introduction: When we interpret or judge other people’s intentions, we often say that ‘actions speak louder than words’. Within this little phrase, a whole wealth of meaning is contained.
This phrase, ‘actions speak louder than words’, was definitely in existence as a proverb in the seventeenth century. Proverbs often start off their existence as sayings that are spoken but not written down, so we may never know the first time that the phrase was used.
However, the first written usage was in 1628. Since then, the phrase has been adopted by many famous people including the president Abraham Lincoln and the novelist Mark Twain.
Meaning of this phrase
This aphorism means that a person’s deeds are often more important than what they say. A person’s actions are said to ‘speak’ in that they broadcast that person’s intentions and thoughts to the world.
A person can say one thing and then do another. For example, they can say that they want to help out, but then do nothing about it. In this sense, their actions speak louder than their words: their failure to help tells us more about their true intentions than their words did.
This phrase is often used to counteract hypocrisy. If a person says that they will help us out, but then do not take any action to help, we may say that ‘actions speak louder than words’.
Thus, the phrase ‘actions speak louder than words’ suggests that actions are a more reliable indicator of a person’s thoughts than their words are. This phrase suggests that if one wants to judge a person’s personality, one should look at how they behave and not just at what they say. For example, one could look at:
- How that person behaves towards vulnerable people: do they help the poor, the sick and the elderly?
- How kind and peaceful that person’s behavior is.
- Whether that person carries out their promises.
Expansion of this idea
This aphorism is, interestingly, increasingly being backed up by science. Cognitive studies of gesture, and psychological studies of body language, for instance, have demonstrated that behavior can be an even more accurate indicator of a person’s thoughts, emotions and intentions than their words are.
This popular idiom is used in nearly every part of the world. People are recognized more for the things that they do rather than the words that they utter. It is, therefore, better to be a person who backs words with actions as opposed to empty rhetoric. It is the ideal way to realize our aspirations and create a lasting legacy in life.
Here are some of the reasons why it is better to act than use words:
- Proving true intentions: Actions can be used to prove true intentions in cases of doubt.
- Necessary for change: To realize change, we have to work for the things that we desire as opposed to talking about them.
- Achieve clarity: Clarity comes from actions, not simply talking about an issue.
- Build reputation: Good reputations are easily built through action and not mere words.
- Lasting impacts: We can create lasting impacts through our actions as opposed to words.
- Easily noticed: People tend to notice actions more than they do words.
- Give meaning to words: Actions provide meaning to words.
- Erase doubt: It is only by acting that we erase any doubt that other people have about us.
- Enhances learning: People learn better through demonstrations compared to teaching theoretically.
- Give life to our dreams: When we act on our dreams, we bring them to life. Just talking about them does not achieve much.
Few examples of when the phrase ‘actions speak louder than words’ can be used includes the following:
- When we do something for someone else instead of simply promising to do it.
- When we instantly give money to charity or to the poor on the streets instead of just talking about how important charity is.
- When we show our love for others with acts of kindness, as well as telling them we love them.
- When we start our planned projects right now, instead of making endless ‘to do lists’.
- When we recognize that words mean nothing unless we put them into effect!
The importance of the idea that ‘actions speak louder than words’ is highlighted below:
1. Spurring people to positive action. This phrase ensures that, instead of just theorizing about what would make the world a better place, people actually start working to make it one.
2. Fulfilling promises. People who believe that ‘actions speak louder than words’ are more likely to keep their promises.
3. Demonstrations of love. When people believe that actions speak louder than words, people will show others that they love them by buying gifts, cooking for them, caring for them when they are ill and so on. These actions are demonstrable proofs that someone is loved, and they will never be forgotten by the recipient.
4. Making words more meaningful. Putting words into action makes words more meaningful: they are no longer just ’empty words’. When we act on our words all the time, people will see that we are trustworthy. When we make a promise to them, they will know that we will put that promise into action.
5. Perfect for the tongue tied. Sometimes, we do not have the words to express ourselves! Knowing that actions can speak louder than words can give us confidence to express ourselves through our deeds instead.
6. Breaking down language barriers. If we do not speak the same language as someone else, we can still demonstrate our intentions and thoughts loud and clear through our actions. Body language is pretty universal, so even if someone does not understand what you are saying, if you help them carry their grocery shopping or cook them some delicious food, they will be able to tell that you are a kind person who wants to help them out and bring joy to their life.
7. Being accountable for our actions. When we acknowledge that actions speak louder than words, this ensures that we stay accountable for our actions. So, we think about our actions and what their effects are on others, and this helps us to be kinder, more compassionate people.
8. More memorable. We do not always remember the exact words that people spoke to us when they performed acts of kindness. But, we often remember the acts themselves as long as we live.
9. A good feeling. When, instead of just speaking about what we would like to do, we actually get it done, we can experience an amazing feeling of positivity. Positive action makes you feel great! And that feeling can spread to others around you too.
10. We achieve more. When we believe in acting on our plans instead of just talking about them, we will get a whole lot more done. Whether that means that we get all of those DIY jobs done at home at last, or whether it means that we go and visit those relatives that we have always been promising to visit, adhering to the notion that ‘action speak louder than words’ enables us to live more varied, fruitful, active and fulfilling lives.
There is no doubt that acknowledging the importance of our actions is a very positive thing. It makes us feel positive, helps others, and enables us to make the world a substantially better place during our own life times. Ensuring that we do not just speak kind words, but also make an effort to perform kind deeds every day of our lives is such a good habit to get in to. That is not to say that words are not important, however. It is also crucial to ensure that we do not speak harshly, untruthfully or unkindly to people.
Acknowledging that our deeds are important does not necessarily mean that we think that our deeds are more important or meaningful than our words.