What people say and what they do

Andrew Carnegie is a Scottish American businessman and philanthropist who is also the man behind Carnegie Hall and Carnegie Mellon University. One of his famous quotes is “As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.”

Indeed, a person’s actions often reveal a lot more than their words. There are two reasons for this. First, talking is easy, while doing is hard. You can easily say that you’re going to do this and that, but actually doing these things takes effort and many people prefer to avoid this effort. Second, even if you put in the effort, you may not do so in a way that’s consistent with what you said you’d do. It’s tempting to say that you will do things in a fair and unselfish way and then do them in a way that falls short of these standards.

However, although actions often speak leader than words, words can sometimes be meaningful predictors of actions. For example, I’ve found that people who begin many of their phrases with “to be fair” are actually less likely to be fair. Similarly, people who qualify their statements by saying “to be honest” are actually more likely to deceive.

The general principle here is that if a person self-describes themselves in a certain way, they may simply be attempting to conceal what they know their true identity to be. If they were actually the way they described, they wouldn’t need to tell others about it. It would show through their actions.