“What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do.”
— John Ruskin
John Ruskin (1819 – 1900) was best known as a Victorian era art critic, although he was also a very prolific writer on a wide variety of subjects, and in a number of styles. this particular quote above came from an 1866 lecture series.
To me, the meaning of the quote has always been clear – whatever we may say, or think, or think we believe, it is ultimately our actions that are important. On a basic level, for me, this is so fundamentally true, that it astonishes me that more people don’t live their lives this way. Especially those that believe in an afterlife of some sort. If you think of your afterlife as your reward/punishment for your life in this world, then it would seem to be obvious that your actions speak much louder than your words in determining which side the scales of cosmic justice will tip toward. Except, I guess, for Roman Catholics, who have a ‘get out of jail free’ card of sorts with the sacrament of confession. An interesting concept (& I was raised Catholic) – you can do pretty much any wrong as long as you confess & perform your penance. Yes, you are supposed to be truly repentant, but many repeat offenders are truly sorry immediately after committing a crime. Humans are fascinating creatures.
But even from an existential perspective – it is only by our actions that we make our mark. Demonstrate to ourselves, and others, who we really are. Find our purpose. Avoid hypocrisy.
When our values are at odds with our actions, that is when we suffer the greatest turmoil. In order to be at peace with ourselves, we have to live our values.