Virtually every writer I know embraces some basic tenets of writing: Know your audience. Use active voice. Put your butt in the chair. Stock up on coffee.
And then there’s “show, don’t tell.” As Anton Chekhov said:
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
Show, don’t tell. Don’t tell me your character is walking down the street on Halloween. Show me the Jack-o-lanterns and costumed kids shoving candy in their mouths.
We all respond more to showing instead of telling. Don’t tell me you’re funny. Make me laugh. Then I’ll know you’re funny. And every parent knows modeling behavior is waaaay more successful than just wagging your finger and lecturing to your kid.
But with the recent attacks on Beirut and Paris, “show, don’t tell” is more big-picture relevant now than ever. The memes are surfacing all over social media that preach or appeal for kindness, compassion, love. And that’s great and well and good.
But you know what matters more? Show me, don’t tell me.
You don’t necessarily have to board a plane to offer aid in person, or deplete your nest egg. Start within your own circle of influence. With your friends, your family. Your neighbors, your community. Show me you care for the downtrodden, the homeless pit bull puppy, the lonely elderly man, the struggling teen. For your co-worker who doesn’t share your religious beliefs. For your cranky cousin who dissed you last Thanksgiving.
Reach out with actions, not words.
How? With a warm, genuine smile. Letting someone else merge into traffic. Helping a stranger carry their groceries to their car. Holding your tongue when you’re about to let fly an unkind comment. Re-framing a judgmental thought in your heart to one of tolerance and peace.
Years ago, when I was very young, my mother said about our neighbor, Mr. M., “He’s the most Christian person I’ve ever met, and he’s never set foot in a church.” I didn’t really understand what she was getting at, so I watched Mr. M. closely after that. If a neighbor’s tree went down, Mr. M. was the first on the scene, ready to chop and haul and clean that mess up. At neighborhood parties, Mr. M. was the first to spot a shy person sitting alone and go over to sit beside them with a big, friendly smile. When old Mrs. P. up the street lost her husband of almost 70 years, Mr. M. was there, a comforting presence to just be with her, even if they didn’t share more than five words over coffee. My mom meant Mr. M. was a man who was walking the walk. Showing, not telling. He was behaving in ways my mom considered “Christian” — without ever preaching about it. He just did it. He lived it.
On the flip side: Earlier this year, I extended an olive branch to someone to try to start the healing on our tense relationship. They had voiced unhappiness about the existing situation, and had offered a list of who/what they felt were to blame. They said they had wanted a better relationship. So, I suggested meeting, getting together for coffee, to open communication and clear up rampant misconceptions and misunderstandings that had festered for years and created ill-will.
It’s been almost a year, and my olive branch has been not only knocked from my hand, but trampled on the ground, the invitation put off, postponed, ignored, rejected. Sadly, that shows me their true feelings and desires, loud and clear. They’re telling me I am unhappy with this situation. But they’re showing me I do not want this fixed. I want to keep my mind, ears, and heart firmly shut.
Show, don’t tell.
Are what you say and what you do in sync? Are you telling me you want world peace, yet showing me a closed heart?
Show, don’t tell.
Show me you’re interested in peace and love and forgiveness, whether that’s on a global scale or within your sphere.
Don’t tell me your love for your fellow humans, regardless of race, religion, borders, or any perceived difference. Show me.
Show me you care.
Show, don’t tell.
Because without action, the words will lay broken and useless and unheard and bleeding in the dirt and on theater floors and city streets. But I don’t need to tell you that. We’ve been shown that, haven’t we?
Let’s all be the light that glints on our world’s shattered glass.