“A picture tells a thousand words” is a saying that applies to the newspaper industry but which also applies to people. The picture created by a person’s actions tells us a thousand words about him or her and goes much farther than words do in telling us about a person’s true thoughts and feelings. Several examples from literature and history demonstrate this point.
Atticus Finch’s actions in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee show that to truly know a person’s convictions we must observe his or her actions. Atticus, a small-town lawyer in a racist, white, southern town was charged with defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. Before he took this talk Atticus spoke like a person who believed in fairness and equality. After taking on this task, despite ridicule from the people in his town, it was obvious he believed in the ideals of which he spoke.
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Another example, which further demonstrates that a person’s true feelings can only be discerned by his or her actions, is Arthur Dimsdale’s behaviour in The Scarlet Letter. In this novel, Dimsdale preaches that salvation comes from obeying God’s will-doing good and not doing what is wrong, being true and honest instead of false and deceiving. All the while he is carrying on a secret relationship with Hester Pryne who has had his child. When she is discovered to be pregnant, he does not defend her. Instead, he lets her carry the social stigma of their mutual sin. Through Dimsdale’s actions and inactions, we can see that Dimsdale’s true beliefs are not as absolute as his words and that his character is not as upright as he would have us believe.
An example from history, which shows that we know a person by his actions, is that of Thomas Jefferson who spoke and wrote about freedom for all mankind yet kept slaves. It appears his belief was that only white men were equal. Something that is only apparent after observing his actions. And it is from reflection on actions such as those mentioned above that Emerson once said, “Your actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” A point that is important to remember because knowing a person’s true character helps us to know whom to trust and whom not to trust.
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