Actions v. Words

Do people pay more attention to words or actions? This was my question I considered while reading “Catcher in the Rye” these past couple weeks. I’ve come to the conclusion, as I thought I would, that people really are more receptive to actions over words. In addition, words describing actions rather than feelings tend to be far more powerful.

Throughout the book, Holden experiences countless occasions of his words being ignored, but his actions being taken slightly more seriously. However, they’re not taken too seriously, as he did punch out the windows in the garage and his parents didn’t send him to therapy then, but still.

Holden also contradicts himself a lot; he constantly says he hates the movies, but imagines himself in one in multiple scenes. In those times, readers overlook his words and just see his actions, which seem to speak louder and tell a different story.

I also definitely don’t think Catcher is the only example of this. Even different kinds of words are more believable than others. If someone says that they’re mad, you’ll probably believe them, but you won’t really have any reason to. But if they say that they were so mad they yelled at their mom, brother, and dog, you’ll probably believe them even more, as long as they’re a trustworthy person.

It’s these specifics that make things like political speeches much easier to swallow and believe. For example, in President Nixon’s Checker’s Speech, rather than saying how he’s an honest person that doesn’t use campaign funds for inappropriate things, he tells a very specific story. Nixon discusses how he got a dog from a voter and through an elaborate display of appeal to pathos he convinces his audience of his good character.

And one of the most obvious examples of actions over words is the breaking of a promise. Whether something small, like keeping a minor secret, or something huge, like Hitler invading Poland even though he said he wouldn’t. Well, that’s pretty extreme, but you get the idea. Throughout history and throughout our everyday lives we see people saying one thing and doing another. And whether they speak before or after doing, we tend to believe what their actions tell us more than their words. Why? Well, let’s leave that for the psychoanalysts to think about.


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