I don’t remember my teacher’s name from my 7th grade English class; but I do remember an important concept that she drilled into us that year. “Show, don’t tell,” she called it. Show me your character is sad in your writing; don’t tell me.
She was sad.
She rushed to the backyard and collapsed onto the cold concrete steps of her garden. Signs of the constancy of change were all around; discarded brown leaves dropped from the trees above, fresh verdant growth of carefully cultivated plants and rouge weeds sprung from the earth below. Looking up at the moon, a comforting reminder of the vastness of this universe and the smallness of our worries, she let her heartbreak spill out onto the soil of a planet she felt so much love for. Of a planet we had just let down.
Okay – that’s a slight dramatization, but that was me on Tuesday night. Can you see the difference?
Details matter. We show our intentions, our character, our values through the details of our words and our actions.
It is easy to tell people that you respect them, but do you show them respect? Do you speak with consideration and courtesy, do you listen with patience and open-mindedness, do you act with kindness and compassion? It is easy to tell people that you support them, but do you show them support? Do you give more than hollow words and spring into action with your time, your money, your energy? It is easy to tell people that you will make their life better, but have you shown them with your legacy of service, your study of the issues, and your methodically detailed plan for the future? It is easy to tell people they can trust you, but do you show them your trustworthiness by being honest and fair and ethical in all your transactions?
Much of my sadness comes from this – that as a people we are telling one thing and showing another. One of my personal creeds is to “live the least hypocritically possible.” That means consciously checking my words and actions against my values. Do they align? In my quest to be the best possible me, I must always consider this, and adjust when necessary. Here are my values:
- I value this beautiful, abundant, miraculous 4.5 billion-year-old planet teeming with life that we are blessed to call home.
- I value these diverse, unique, self-aware animals called Homo sapiens that have spent the last 200,000 years trying to survive and thrive and make sense of the world.
- I value this strong, supportive, loving community of friends and family and neighbors that I have been fortunate enough to join through both birth and intention.
I pray to my atheist god that others share my values and will show their respect and support of our planet, our species, our communities, through the carefully considered details of their words and their actions. We are too powerful to be flippant or careless or lazy. This is not the time for apathy; it is the time for action. This is not the time for self-interest; this is the time for global interest. We are one planet, one people, one community, hurling through infinite space, where life itself is a rare and precious gift. We have each others’ destinies in our hands. There is no “them,” only “us.”
Published November 15th, 2016
Photograph taken of the dictionary my mom gave me for my high school graduation in 1989. My mom used to read the dictionary for fun and, at the time, I thought she was crazy. Now, I get it. Thanks, mom, for teaching me to love words. They matter.