Actions speak louder than words, but if a tree falls in a forest and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound? That totally just popped into my head. I’m not sure if that actually makes sense or if it’s even relevant … but it sounds kind of nice.
The more and more I think about this journal, and the idea of opening up, and being more vocal, the more I’m reminded of my cynicism. This idea that if I am to do something, to do it genuinely and sincerely, that there’s no need to talk about it. That if anything, I would only undermine my own actions by purposely drawing attention to them. You see this every day in the news and in viral videos.
There will be some article about a philanthropist or a person recording themselves performing a good deed and inevitably comments from people criticizing the individuals will follow. The criticism will often times be along the lines of, “You’re only doing this for publicity” or “Why did you bother recording this? If your motive was truly altruistic you would have simply done the deed and kept quiet”. I’ve noticed one problem with this line of thinking is this connotation that if something is public then it can’t also be sincere. That when we ask ourselves to judge the sincerity of a person or a deed we fall back on quotes like, “Actions speak louder than words” as if to say honest action and words are mutually exclusive, that you can’t have both. But we know this to be false. We know this.
Since it is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, let’s take this man as an example. What is the first thing that pops into your head when you think about this man? Is it the fact that you don’t have school because his birthday is a federal holiday? Is it the stance that he held on nonviolence? For me, the first thing that will come up are the words, “I have a dream”. Words. And then of course all the actions that came before and after those words that gave them weight. I know Martin Luther King Jr. did more for the advancement of civil rights than I could ever truly appreciate, but it is still that iconic string of four words that anchor my knowledge about this historic figure. Of course MLK Jr.’s actions will forever speak louder than what many of us will say and do within our lifetimes, but he also knew the importance of rallying support.
And it is this idea of rallying support and creating a movement of sorts that helps to quiet my cynicism. You see it’s one thing to be a living example of the ideals you want to spread in the world, but unless attention is called to them your ideals will not spread far, if at all. I’d say MLK Jr. understood this very well. He lead by example, to embody the values that he held, but he also made it a point to preach those values that he wished to see more of. He gave public speeches, he held peaceful marches and he verbally taught nonviolent civil disobedience. We see this even with prominent philanthropists today.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are two other examples. Two of the wealthiest men alive, and yet also two of the most prominent philanthropists. We look at these two men and their fortunes and it’s often so easy to want to say, “You know you have all this money, why don’t you just give it all away and the world will be better for it”, “Even if it was 90%, you could still live several lifetimes with that money and so much good would be done”. However, we forget that often times money doesn’t solve everything. I won’t dive much farther than that as that’s another can of worms, but I’d say they knew that well and also understood the importance of rallying support. They could donate all their money, quietly, and that would be the end of it, but I believe they knew it was just as important, if not more, to get others involved. Hence, The Giving Pledge. The importance of them talking about what they wanted to do, what they’re currently doing, and what they plan to do. The importance of inspiring others and showing them that people like this exist and that they wouldn’t be alone in taking this path. Whether that be philanthropy, fighting for civil rights, or performing random acts of kindness.
As much as I used to complain about recorded videos of good deeds, I’ve realized that without the publicity I never would have even thought about them. I’ve learned a lot of different ways I can help others, or ways to make people smile, that I wouldn’t have otherwise known or done had someone not talked about it.
I know there are definitely people out there that will take advantage of this. People that will do things solely for the attention or praise. But honestly, what does it matter? If people record themselves giving something away, unless they took it back after the recording, they still gave something away. While the motivation may not be pure, a good deed was still done. The recipient is still better for it. I’ve come to believe it’s a greater pity to not amplify our efforts for a cause we care about, or a movement we wish to see happen, or a project we’d like support on, when the tradeoff is simply energy spent to talk about it.
While there are definitely differences in approaches, with some retaining more focus on true altruism than others, I think we’ll all be better off spending less time critiquing presentation and more time on echoing the aspects that speak to us. With all the perceived chaos in the world, just be thankful that we still have news about good deeds. Because let’s face it, if a tree falls in a forest and no one’s around to hear it, does it even matter whether or not it made a sound?