Actions and Words

By Scott Westerman
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“Be content to act, and leave the talking to others.” – Baltasar Gracián

At an away game this several years back, a Spartan Freshman crossed paths with a young woman in home town regalia. She looked at his MSU Green and White and said, “Michigan State: The school you go to when you can’t get accepted here.”

The young man thought for a moment. His ACT was 34. He earned a 3.7 grade point average in high school. A half dozen top tier institutions, including hers had wooed him with scholarship offers. But he decided to attend MSU. He liked the campus atmosphere. He was instantly welcomed as a Spartan, even before he had committed. And the university happened to have the number one program in the nation in his area of interest.

He thought about a retort, but let it pass. His mother later told me, “I wish we could fast forward 20 years and compare accomplishments.”

I’m not saying that our misguided antagonist won’t do good things in later life. I hope she will. But it was one more example of how prejudice diminishes the prejudicial.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote these words in his 1965 book, Strength to Love: “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

And all too often, looks can be deceiving.

My friend Mike Hudson can pick me out of a crowd of 100 just by hearing my voice. At first glance, many would conclude that he couldn’t find his way across a room… because of the white cane he carries. Mike leads our Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities. His vision for human potential is the crystal clear. “The only things standing in the way of great accomplishment,” he says, “are the limitations we place on ourselves.” Mike’s daily actions inspire young people to shed the labels of others, and do great things anyway.

Words can be tools to build self esteem, to energize high performance, to cement friendships, to articulate and deepen love. They can also be weapons of mass distraction.

Actions always speak for themselves.

We are bombarded, daily, by thousands of words intended to influence our behavior. It’s easy to be seduced. It’s much harder to evaluate people, products and ideas, until we see them.. in action.

What does congressional gridlock tell us about the men and women who have the power to change it? What does a leader’s attention to the needs of his employees tell us about his attitude toward his customers. What does the way we spend our time tell us about who we are?

I’ve had the good fortune to speak with thousands of people about success, high performance and happiness. My words are insignificant in comparison to the deeds of those extraordinary few who mold concept into action, who do when others just talk, who exude confidence, compassion and caring from every pore, and make every day a monument to what’s most important.

In every instance, there have also been naysayers. People who try to diminish your accomplishments, question your motives and destroy your character. Remember that what Freud called “projection” is simply nothing more than trying to cover a strong person’s character in a blanket of a weaker person’s faults.

We’ve all done this from time to time. But over time, your body of work will become a monument to who you really are.

In today’s fishbowl of instant Internet communication, the veneer of hyperbole is quickly peeled away. And Andrew Carnegie’s words are more accurate than ever. “As I grow older I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.”