Showing versus Telling

In my senior class today, we did this (what I thought was really cool) mini lesson on ‘showing versus telling’. I had the students pick two Jelly Bellies. Then, they ate one, and wrote a paragraph about that experience. We read a couple samples aloud, and asked how many of those samples SHOWED the experience versus just told about it. We talked about telling (It is cold outside) versus showing (The bitter wind paralyzed my finger tips). Then, they ate the second, and wrote a paragraph SHOWING the experience. In just these few brief moments, their writing drastically improved (or, perhaps it was just the sugar kicking in).

The thing I love most about teaching writing is–it’s not just the teaching of writing, but rather the teaching of life. How many times is it better to SHOW someone something, rather than just TELL them?

For example, the traditional way of hiring an employee is to call them in for an interview, ask a few questions, decide they are qualified based on their responses, and offer them the job. However, in my personal opinion, it’s really easy to bullshit those answers; as the interviewee, all I need to do is figure out what kind of responses they are looking for. In one of my interviews, I remember being asked, “How would you handle an unruly parent?” Of course, I answered in the way the school wanted me to answer, “I would call them up during my precious plan period and invite them in for a one-on-one meeting to hear their concerns and try to resolve the situation”. Whether or not I would actually do that is not the issue, because all I needed to do was TELL the interview committee what they wanted to hear.

Or, you might think of a time when someone TOLD you they were going to do something, and then life got a hold of them, and they actually did not. Like, you were having a graduation party, and they were SO EXCITED to come (even RSVP’ed on Facebook), and then never came. Or, they TOLD you they were always open as a listening ear, and then when the time came, they bolted, never returned your call, and somehow, disappeared from social media.

Or, perhaps there is a friend who hangs out in your circle that everyone says is manipulative and conniving. Perhaps they tell you a story about how one time everyone was out at dinner, agreed to split an appetizer, and this person, greedily, ate all of the tater tots on the platter, and then dashed when the bill came out. Or, a time one group member secretly liked this guy, and the other friend went out with him just to spite her.

Of course, there are lots of instances when people can simply just TELL you things: “No, I don’t have an eating disorder”, “No, I didn’t cheat on that test”, “Yes, I did drink my milk today”, “Yes, I always wear my seat belt when I drive”, “Yes, I do respect your authority”.

It’s really easy to TELL people things, but SHOWING is always a much more accurate account.

I personally never believe anything anyone says, because I believe that actions speak louder than words. There are many things engrained in our characters that, no matter how hard we try to hide them, they will eventually surface. I think this is why so many women ended up in insane asylums in the early 20th century; there were all these pressures to be an idle ‘Angel in the House’ that just did not work with their personalities, and so, the women could not stifle their natural tendencies any longer, and they exploded. Someone may TELL me they really care about the Earth, but it is not until I see them recycling, petting squirrels, and wearing Birkenstocks that statement counts. Someone could TELL me they really want to be a better writer, but it is not until I see them actively participating and participating that the statement holds validity. And, someone might TELL me they would be the best husband ever, but its not until they show me they can cook and do finances (and my dogs like them) do I believe it.

Perhaps instead of asking people how they would handle an unruly parent, we should watch them in a situation. Perhaps instead of believing people when they say they will do something, we should wait until they actually do. And, perhaps instead of building our character judgements on what other people tell us, we should build them based on what people show us.

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