I have an extremely intelligent friend with incredible insights into history and politics. He might have become a brilliant professor, but when he was 14 years old, his grandmother told him that he wasn’t college material. Believing her, he didn’t go to college, and has spent his life working in dead end clerical positions.
Another friend was told by her alcoholic father, when she was about 12 years old, that she was too fat to be a gymnast. Until that moment in time, she had been very successful in gymnastics. After that comment, she dropped out of it, and suffered from anorexia nervosa for a number of years. I have seen photos of her at that age and she was not fat by any stretch of the imagination. Who knows what demon caused her father to make such a statement, but to this day she still struggles with her body image.
On several occasions my father praised my writing ability, but when I said I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, he would tell me that I could not make any money from it. I love writing, but I have been conflicted about my passion ever since.
In a previous column, titled More Powerful Than You Know, I write about the power of praise, and how just a few words can change someone’s life. When someone, whom we consider to be an authority, tells us something - good or bad - about ourselves, we accept it and make it part of our internal belief system. If it is good, we go on to succeed. If it is bad, we fail or struggle to get ahead.
Has someone important in your life told you that you are ugly, or stupid, or clumsy? Or were you told that you are attractive, or smart, or clever? Whichever you heard, especially if you were a child at the time, you probably accepted it as fact. The words or labels we’re given can too easily map out our lives.
Alternately, there are times when actions speak louder than words.
When I was growing up my mother lavishly doled out words of love, but the actions weren’t there to back them up. She was more neglectful than abusive, but she was both. I was frequently left to fend for myself as she pursued her interests. She expected me to attend her needs, but my actions were seldom reciprocated.
Over the years, I found myself in relationship after relationship with women who would endear me with words of love, but fail to express it in other ways. Alas, those couplings would never last.
Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, explains that people communicate love in different ways. He says that a person may like to experience love in one or more of the following ways: physical touch, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and words of affirmation. According to Chapman, when you find your significant other’s favorite love language(s), then you have discovered the key to making that relationship last. Mine has always been quality time, but I like most of the others as well.
We are frequently wooed by the words of politicians, but then when they get elected, they seem to immediately forget their campaign promises. Later on, we are frightened into voting for them again and again, because we fear the words of their competition. We teach them that only their words matter, so they continue to paint beautiful pictures in our minds with words, then do nothing to bring them to fruition.
Advertisers, on the other hand, usually fulfill their promises. As many in business know, there is nothing like good advertising to drive a bad product off the market. Meaning: an effective ad campaign will get a lot of people to try a new product, but if it doesn’t meet the expectations created by the ad, the product will quickly fail.
Which do you find more important, words or actions?
Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. is an author, humorist/speaker and innovation consultant. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. Robert is the author of The Annoying Ghost Kid, a humorous children's book about dealing with a bully. He is also the author of the inspirational book: Wisdom in the Weirdest Places. For more information on Robert, please visit www.jumpstartyourmeeting.com.