Student News

Words to Live By: Action over Talk

Friends, Mary Ellen – April 29, 2014

The Master said, “The superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions.” — Confucius (551-479 B.C.) The Analects, XIV.29.

This quote from a famous Chinese philosopher, Confucius, describes a person who values action over losing time by speaking with empty words. The superior man isn’t known for long speeches, but more for excellence and efficiency when the time comes to take action on a project. Even though the quote above was recorded more than two thousand years ago, it is still accurate. Usually, the people who achieve success at work, school or in any other domain are the ones ready to put in the effort, and they do not ask to have the spotlight on them. Confucius’s words are now defined in the expression “Walk the walk; don’t talk the talk”. This attitude infers that in order to achieve a fixed goal, you have to do what you said you would do.

One of the main criteria of a good leader is to be able to lead by example. This leader shouldn’t have to talk a whole bunch. Rather, he should show others how things are done, by acting as a model. Having been captain of my former hockey team for a year showed me that guys prefer to have someone ready to bring it to every game rather than a guy who keeps saying what to do but can’t really back up his words. Leadership coming from actions is much more powerful than empty promises. When we talk about “taking one for the team,” it can’t just be a speech; it has to be reflected in the actions on ice, like taking a hit or blocking a shot. Also, problems often stay for days, weeks, even months in discussion without someone acting to solve them. A striking example concerns stereotypes and racism. We repeatedly encounter unacceptable actions of exclusion in everyday life. I do not understand how you can exclude a person from your activities or group of friends only because they do not have the same origin. If we want things to change, I believe we have to stop talking about “possible solutions” and start with a couple of individuals who have the strength and leadership to promote respect in their entourage. I am not saying here that you have to be friends with every one at the school; it is just a question of respect of the individual. If a couple of individuals work hard to include people of every race in their activities, others will follow.

At Deerfield, an easy way to apply Confucius’s idea is in team projects. I’ve had a couple to do this year and we always start by talking about the work to do. This is fine. Next time you are in a group, try this out: divide the work and make sure everyone completely achieves his or her tasks. This way work gets done and projects are more successful. In the end, keep in mind is that it is more helpful to act rather than talk with empty words.

–Francois Laflamme ‘16