Show. Don’t Tell
Dental genetics are not on my kids’ side. Take one look at pictures of Dan and me as kids and you won’t need an orthodontic professional to tell you that our offspring will need thousands of dollars poured into their mouths. And sure enough, time for the pouring has come. The orthodontist we’re visiting has a reputation for being punctual and requiring punctuality of his patients. Sure, I thought, I can do punctual.
For the first couple of visits we arrived on time. Visit three, however, we left home a little late and hit a lot of traffic and we whipped into the parking lot almost 15 minutes after our appointment was supposed to start. Magoo went to check himself in on the computer but it gave him a late arrival error code and told us to report to the front desk.
They didn’t scold us or tell how upset they were about our lateness or say, “We take punctuality very seriously here,” but when I checked in, they had me wait for several minutes while they went back to see if they could rearrange the schedule to fit us in. It was awkward and suspenseful, and in my heart I vowed to never be late again. They were polite and they were able to fit us in, but unlike the other kids around us, Magoo received no Good Patient prize. Those were for people who came on time to their appointments. The message was clear, much more so than if they’d delivered a lecture.
They showed us through their actions that lateness was not okay. Sometimes words just water down your message.
I love to make positive changes in my life. I read a new book, watch a TED talk, speak to an inspiring person, and all of a sudden I decide that everything will be different. Everything. I am frequently heard saying, “From now on we…” and my kids and husband take these bandwagons with a grain of salt. Uh-huh. Yep. I’ll believe it when you actually make that change “from now on.”
“We could save so much money if I made your lunches every day, rather than paying for school lunches. From now on I will make lunch for you every day before school,” I say. But, before you know it, I’ve fallen off the bandwagon and they’re making their way through the lunch line again. My words are hollow. If I really want to start making their lunches, I should just start making their lunches and they’ll figure out pretty soon that that’s what we’re doing. My actions will show them.
Actions definitely speak louder than words, but they’re also more fun, more interesting, and more fulfilling. I recently visited an elementary school for their author’s week and we talked about writing. One of the keys to good fiction writing is to show the reader something, rather than simply telling about it. For example, if a character is mean, show him punching a kitten or tripping a main character, rather than telling the reader, “This character is mean.”
Would you rather hear about a fun new friend or spend time with her? If I told you how much I loved reading but then you never once saw me pick up a book, would you believe me? Would you rather have someone tell you about a gorgeous waterfall or go see it for yourself?
Every time we drive by Snoqualmie Falls on the way to the outlet mall, I point out the parking lot and tell Wanda that there’s a cool waterfall just over that hill. Finally last week I decided to stop for five minutes and show her the waterfall. We pulled into the parking lot and she asked what we were doing there.
“Stopping to look at the waterfall.”
“There’s a waterfall here?!”
I’ve only told her about it a hundred times. But now that she’s seen it, she’ll be the one to point it out every time we pass. I needed to show her.
I don’t know whether it’s laziness or simply bad habits, but in writing, in living, and in parenting, it becomes way too easy to just yap rather than following through. I threaten the kids with extra chores if they leave their junk all over the floor but the chores don’t always come. I talk and talk about how I’m going to build a tree house this summer… every summer… but my tree remains naked. Sometimes I spend more time writing a task on a to-do list than it would take to complete the task. Action, people. More action is needed.
Don’t say you love them and then treat them unkindly. If you treat them kindly, they’ll know you love them. Then say it. Because it’s good reinforcement.
Don’t say you’re sorry and that you’ll never yell at your kids again. Say you’re sorry and then actually don’t yell at them. They’ll learn to trust that you won’t do it again when you don’t do it again.
Don’t just tell your friend how much you love spending time with her. Invite her to do something.
Build a garden box even if it’s too late in the season to use it this year.
Go for a walk.
Add more vegetables to the meal.
Clean the kitchen.
Arrive at work on time.
Don’t say it. Do it. Show me. Don’t tell me.
When I’m having a hard time getting anything done, sometimes the best remedy is just doing something. I’m not saying you can magically make yourself do the one thing you’re avoiding. Just do something. Action begets action so if all you can do is pick up one thing or send one email, do it. And then do it again. One step at a time. One Drop of Awesome. Show me the waterfall. I need to see it.
Kathryn knows how to hit the nail on the head when it comes to parenting. We know you’ll love these posts of hers, too: