Do actions speak louder than words? | Moment's Notice
Last updated 5/15/2019 at Noon
“Love is an open secret, the most obvious thing in the world and the most hidden, with no why to how it keeps its mystery.” Rumi
It must be love, love, love. That’s what the band Madness sang decades ago, and in apparent agreement with Rumi about the hidden nature of love, they went on to ask, How can it be that we can say so much without words?
Honestly, other than the way John Cusack looks at Ione Skye in “Say Anything” or Bogart looks at Bacall in “To Have and Have Not,” I am not sure I have seen a worthy example of love being communicated nonverbally.
Similarly, I can think of plenty of moments where sadness is easy to see but not necessarily understand the why behind it. James Dean’s gaze could cut right through you, but until he said to his parents, “You’re tearing me apart,” we did not realize that he was confused and heartbroken, not rebellious.
We are taught that our actions demonstrate our feelings or portray our level of commitment or even validate our self-worth or value to others. But all of that action can prevent us from remembering to talk about those feelings, or commitment, or value.
Worse yet, actually expressing emotions can become downright paralyzing.
Psychologists say that most of us suffer from alexithymia, or a difficulty putting emotions into words, and we are generally socialized not to go too deep most of the time. We humans also find it difficult to accept compliments or kind words because although we feel deserving of recognition or love, we doubt ourselves.
Besides, there is too much to get done to spend time yammering on about feelings.
Even in relationships where love is at the core of connection, we can get out of the habit. Despite the importance of that first “I love you,” as years pass, couples and friends and family members can fall into a nearly reflexive use of the phrase.
When you ask people about when they fell in love or met their best friend, they usually tell stories of endless ardent conversations, of a shared love of that very important thing (dogs, ’80s music, protesting at political rallies), and how they felt cared for and wanted (an unexpected delivery of flowers at work with a hand-written note, being there to talk after faith in mankind is shaken, saying thanks for letting you say what you could not to anyone else).
Psychologists tell us relationships are grounded in feeling known and valued by a partner, and that love needs to be reinforced on a regular basis to establish and strengthen bonds as the world changes around us.
Expressing significant words of affection or talking about the meaning of a shared experience (or “pro-social behaviors, as the shrinks call that) helps us to continue to grow meaningful connections and to treat and be perceived as treating each other with love and compassion. (I have always been a fan of the Southern phrase “I appreciate you” in response to someone holding the door.)
Even with kids, talking and listening to them about feelings teaches them to form relationships and build self-esteem because they learn how to verbalize the feelings that they do not understand.
When I ask my goddaughter for her advice about how I should surprise my husband or handle a problem, we have a much better conversation than when I ask, “How are you?”
Love is the ever-present and confounding keystone of our lives, as Rumi said.
Clarity does not come by hoping our feelings are understood but left unsaid. Shakespeare said it best, “And when love speaks, the voice of all the gods makes heaven drowsy with the harmony.”
Perhaps if we keep looking for new words to express why we love or admire each other, we might have fewer people wondering if they are cared for, valued, and, yes, loved.