We say that actions speak louder than words – and indeed they should. But in actual fact we have to be extremely vigilant in order to avoid simply accepting what we are told.
Our human brains seem to be wired to process information quickly and efficiently by slotting it into pre-existing sets of beliefs. Something we are told can provide a quick frame of reference, through which we process our future experiences and observations For example, if someone tells you, perhaps more than once, that they are a firm believer in giving to charity, it’s likely you will take them for a generous person and completely fail to notice when they repeatedly dodge the office whip-round, or walk past the street seller on Daffodil Day. Their words will have had more impact (in your mind) than their actions. I’m guessing this is because it takes only a second to passively accept what they say, but a bit of time, effort and suspended judgement to take in the truth for yourself.
Most of the time I think we live in a kind of virtual reality, where our mental picture of the world bears little relation to what is actually going on. This phenomenon has more than one layer:
- Words are given more credibility than actions
- Written words are given more credibility than spoken ones
- Numbers are imbued with even more credibility still
Good lawyers win more court cases, not because their clients are more often right, but because they use words convincingly. In most workplaces it’s not the quality of your work that will get you a promotion, but how well you’ve documented what you’ve (supposedly) done. And coloured graphs showing percentages and success rates will often be taken as the ‘facts that speak for themselves,’ when really they indicate only what can be measured and quantified – a tiny fraction of the overall experience. (Around 7%, actually, since, as 48% of people know, 65.3% of statistics are just made up on the spot.)
How can we release ourselves from these false mental representations of the world? The answer lies in simplicity. Stillness. Awareness. Slowing down. Just being. Let go of mental clutter and the truth will shine through.
I believe it will take a lot of us to make this a daily practice before our society stops rewarding spin above true contribution. Meanwhile as individuals we can choose to opt out of society’s shared delusions and begin to live more deeply and honestly. All it takes is the courage to value the truth above other people’s representations of it.