Let's Digress

Our Actions Define Us

[Updated 10/11/2019]

Our actions define us.

That’s counterintuitive to what society has been saying for years, especially since phrases and mentalities like, “Don’t judge me,” and “Really, I’m a good person, especially compared to that other guy…” became popular.

Regardless, it’s still true. We aren’t defined by our intentions or our thoughts; we’re defined by what we do. Our actions.

Disclaimer: This is in the context of how us humans relate to other humans. People have frequently said, “But, Adam, God looks at our hearts.” And to that I say, “Yes! God looks at our hearts and motives. God also defines us by multiple other metrics as well. But the particular context I’m referring to here is person-to-person, not God-to-person or person-to-God. So ultimately, our behavior is what we define each other by.”

It doesn’t necessarily matter what we think or how we feel. It primarily matters how we behave, at least from the standpoint of how society sees things, even if that society says otherwise, which it often does. It’s similar to how some gyms claim to be “judgment free zones,” even though there is documented evidence of them judging their clientele. (E.g., Someone getting kicked out of a gym for unwelcome behavior. By definition, for that behavior to be deemed unwelcome, it had to have been judged.)

Sure, our actions are sometimes an extension of what we’re thinking or feeling, and those thoughts and feelings are usually important, but it’s still the action itself that others will define us by. It’s our actions that will always leave the lasting imprint on others.

No one is remembered only by their intentions. People don’t go to prison just for their intentions. People don’t get fired from jobs for their intentions. People don’t change the world only by their intentions. It’s all about the actions, and none of those things happen until the intentions manifest into behaviors, regardless of if they are good or bad.

Our actions define us.

C.S. Lewis once said that it’s when we’re at our worst that our character is defined. The way we behave when we’re inconvenienced, wronged, angered, sad, slandered, or libeled will be what we’re remembered by. That is what will define us to others.

Oh, and let’s not forget that famous quote from Batman Begins when he quotes Rachel back to herself saying, “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”

Similar to how a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, we’re only as good as our worst behavior in the human-to-human context.

If we always do the right thing, then we don’t need to worry about our behavior. We can proudly label and own our actions, regardless of what they may be, as long as we do the right thing. That is also much easier said than done, but doing the next best most right thing is something we should all strive for.

Some people try to hide their actions, thoughts, and behaviors. Those people have a character problem. Specifically, an ownership and transparency issue and maybe some entitlement difficulties, too. I’m not advocating for always disclosing all information to everyone all the time. That would be foolish. There are safe people and unsafe people to share with, and with that, not everyone always needs to know everything because most people don’t always have the right to know everything.

That point is that we need to own our behavior, faults, problems, emotions, accomplishments, and take responsibility for them instead of trying to push them off onto someone else (that whole “blaming others for our behavior” thing).

Transparency is a catalyst for clarity, understanding, and oftentimes, pain. When we’re upfront with what we’re doing, things tend to be better, especially if we’re doing the right thing. Actually, if we’re doing the right thing, then we should want to be transparent and own what we’re doing anyway. For more on transparency, I recommend this link.

Ownership is just that: owning things. Specifically, owning only that which belongs to us. It is us saying, “Yes, ______ belongs to me,” regardless of what that may be. It may be an intention, emotion, desire, hate, want, or in this case, an action. For more about ownership, I recommend this link.

I’m also not trying to imply that anger and hate are bad things. Quite the contrary, actually. They’re both wonderful and incredibly important things for us to experience. What we hate and are angered by always reveals more about us and the state of our figurative heart than anything else. At the same time, we must tread carefully when fraternizing with hate and anger because they’re both things that demand to have actions follow them, and it’s those actions we act opon that others will define us by.

Anger and hate are both catalysts for change, which is why they require action. Anger says, “Something is terribly wrong. We need to fix this.” Hate says, “I don’t like this. Not one bit.” Unfortunately, we don’t usually think as clearly as we should when we’re angry or in the midst of hating. Fortunately for us, the actions to follow can generally take place after there has been adequate time to think and contemplate. The actions to follow do need to happen, they just don’t usually need to happen right at that particular moment in the heat of everything.

In the end, we can think all we want, have every good or bad intention, and feel every way imaginable. But it will always be the actions which stem from those intentions, emotions, and thoughts that will leave the imprint for others to define and remember us by.

We’re defined by our actions.

3 thoughts on “Our Actions Define Us

    1. Firstly, I’m not very punctual at replying to comments.

      Secondly, the short answer is, we can’t be.

      This article is only discussing being defined within the sphere of one person to another person. I think undiscovered actions would fall under us being defined by ourselves, God, or whatever higher power one is inclined to believe in.

      If those undiscovered actions were ever discovered by others, then I suppose it would fall back to the premise of this article as any other known action that others would define us by.

      Look at it this way: Tuck is an undercover CIA agent doing dangerous undercover work. Tuck also has an ex-wife and a kid who think he’s a borderline deadbeat and unsuccessful travel agent. The ex-wife and kid define him by his random, long absences and overall unsuccessfulness, which is why she divorced him in the first place.

      Meanwhile, his unbeknownst-to-them actions involve him repeatedly saving the world and catching bad guys.

      In their eyes, is he a deadbeat? Yes. In his eyes, is he a deadbeat? No. But in that person-to-person context, he is a deadbeat to them, because they don’t know what they don’t know.

      Later on, when they discover that he’s actually a super awesome CIA agent who saved the world several times, will they still view him as a deadbeat? Of course not! Because they’ll have a whole new set of previously-unknown-and-now-known actions to evaluate.

      Also, I took that example from the plot of the This Means War movie with Chris Pine and Tom Hardy.

  1. Reading today in 2018, the question is too complex to answer with a yes or no. I believe more so that people recognize us by out actions. But are action(s) do not “define” us. Too many actions occur in one persons life time, it is up to others how they recognize or remember someone by that action. A simple example is if some one steals at age 23, they may never steal again in their life. Regaurdless to why, either negative consequence or change in moral judgement, that desicion does not have to define that person. If they did steal again, others may remember or recognize that person as a theif. Asking anything in the broad context of “do our actions define us” is too vague for a simple answer.

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