Show, Don’t Tell in Writing and Relationships

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“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekhov

Show, don’t tell. It’s how every writer wants to write and what every editor wants to read. Showing is the magic in Chekhov’s description of the moon.

I’m figuring out that “show, don’t tell” also works magic in relationships. I wish I’d practiced living by example years ago instead of reacting and saying way too often, “Let me tell you one thing … ”

I should have told my family very little and lived my lectures. I can tell you from decades of experience, it’s harder to do than it sounds. It’s why I’ve blogged for a year about getting your own life while loving the people in it. It’s why plenty of famous writers are known for quotes about living by example.

“A good example is the best sermon.” Benjamin Franklin

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” Albert Schweitzer

“What you do has far greater impact than what you say. “ Stephen Covey

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My friend’s story drove the message deeper. She said her husband drank to get drunk every evening, so she went to a counselor for help. She let him know she’d given her husband plenty of talks, usually ending in threats to leave him.

Here’s what he told her, “If you were my wife, you’d give me a reason to drink every single night.”

The counselor’s point was not to shame her or place blame, but to give her insight. He wanted my friend to understand how telling (and reacting, which typically go hand-in-hand) contributed to the drinking. Her enabling, in the form of threats instead of action, was what I related to, except I gave my family and friends a reason to be irresponsible and disrespectful every single day.

Instead of saying “no” to my children about borrowing personal items they didn’t take care of, I threw fits and said, “This is the last time you borrow anything unless you take care of it.”

This time I lecture, but you’ll be sorry next time because I’ll show instead of tell.

Always next time.

Like my friend who kept talking about politics, I wasn’t going out with her … next time.

Like another friend who refused to get help except to call me in the wee hours of the morning to say she was afraid of her husband, I wasn’t answering my phone … next time.

Like my family’s unpleasant tones of voice, I planned to take a walk or hang up the phone instead of argue … next time.

Some people honor boundaries, but there are just as many who ignore what we ask of them no matter how reasonable or right or easy it is to do. That is, until we follow through, which is when they honor it or they go away or we go away.

Whichever of the three happens, showing works.

I don’t know if everyone else was relieved, but I calmed down when I finally shut up and did what I said I was going to do. I had exhausted myself with threats, so following through was a pleasant (even though uncomfortable) change.

“Show, don’t tell” is still awkward sometimes because I prefer dialogue – lots and lots of dialogue. Telling is a 40-year habit for me. Acting on my behalf isn’t and sometimes it’s easier to be lazy. I’d rather explain what I want and give you a chance to do it even when I don’t think you will.

There’s a price to pay for taking the easy way out, though. Telling, instead of showing, has cost me time and energy. Like I said, I’ve exhausted myself making threats. My sanity’s been on the line when I’ve said the same things over and over and expected something different to happen. Telling has caused health problems like the morning I couldn’t get out of bed to keep an appointment with a negative colleague who’d asked me out several times. I finally said “yes” and made myself sick about going. I was afraid saying “no” again may show her how unlikable she was, which may have been a lesson she needed.

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Show, don’t tell.

Like Albert Schweitzer said in the quote above, showing is the only thing that works.

Showing happens when I set
boundaries.

Showing happens when I honor what is good for me and stay away from who and what is not.

Showing happens when self-care is as important as other-care.

Showing happens when I act on my own behalf instead of waiting for others to do it.

Showing happens when I get my own life while loving the people in it.

Showing happened when I stopped socializing with friends who insisted on talking politics, when I stopped answering my phone before 8 in the mornings, and when I started walking out and hanging up on disrespect.

“The life you live is the lesson you teach.”

I started teaching people how to treat me by showing them how I wanted to be treated. It feels magic, but it’s really a matter of showing instead of telling.

What do you need to stop telling and start showing by your actions?

In This Together,
Kim

This Simple Principle Will Solve Your Show, Don’t Tell Problems” is an article by Tom Farr who gave helpful writing tips, and I got some relationship tips too. Tom is a storyteller, blogger, freelance writer, and high school English teacher.

 

Thanks for the perfect images, Pixabay.com. Your free pictures make blogging easier and more professional looking.

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4 responses »

    • Hahaha, Andrew … at least you still have your sense of humor! 🙂 I love that about you. Just so you know, you’ve outlived some of my physically healthy, but grumpy and negative friends. That says a lot about how you’re living and dying.

      I always look forward to your comments! And I always keep you in my prayers that John and I say nightly.

  1. From Facebook (Kim Henson) ~
    Stacy Garceau, Delilah Lewis and 28 others

    3 Shares

    Kim Henson Replaced the image above with this one. 💙
    Image may contain: plant, outdoor, water and nature
    Like · Reply · 1 · December 7 at 2:16am

    Nicky James https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/

    Bible Gateway passage: Ezekiel 33:31 – King James Version
    And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and…
    BIBLEGATEWAY.COM
    Love · Reply · Remove Preview · 1 · December 7 at 2:20am

    Kim Henson Thanks so much for sharing this verse, Nicky James. It’s another reminder of our flaws and why we need God. ❤
    Like · Reply · December 8 at 12:21am

    Nicky James the flaw is not of faith
    Like · Reply · December 8 at 12:31am

    Kim Henson Nicky James, I'm not sure I understand what you're saying.
    Like · Reply · December 8 at 1:09am · Edited

    Nicky James thats why we need god 😉
    Love · Reply · 1 · December 8 at 2:13am

    Kim Henson Nicky James, yes. ❤
    Like · Reply · December 9 at 2:33am

    Stacy Garceau ❤️ this! Couldn’t be truer. I’m finally and slowly learning this. Such freedom and peace. Thx.
    Love · Reply · 1 · December 7 at 4:41am

    Kim Henson Thanks so much, Stacy Garceau! ❤ It's taken me forever to "get it," but now that I (almost) have, you're right, it's so freeing.
    Like · Reply · 1 · December 8 at 12:24am

    Rhonda C. Hensley Great post! Reminds me of this quote by Charles Spurgeon which I just reposted yesterday, "Now, if you pray in one way with your lips and in another way with your lives, your lives will win the day and your children will rather be like what you are than what you ask for them to be."
    Love · Reply · 2 · December 7 at 9:31am

    Kim Henson Oh, wow, Rhonda C. Hensley. That's a great one. ❤ I love quotes. I'm a bit of a fanatic. Yours reminds me of one I almost shared in the blog post, "Live as you wish your kids would." I'm adding yours to my quote journal. Thanks.
    Like · Reply · 1 · December 8 at 12:26am

    Susan Blanton Roche Another great post! Showing is so simple if you can get past the uncomfortable feeling of rejection, disappointment or caring how others take you. I think that once we get past that, we have doors opened to a whole new life! This also made me think of my children. You can say all day to pick up your toys or…but when you come in with a bag to pick up and throw away, they all of a sudden know you quit telling and produced action! ❤
    Love · Reply · 3 · December 8 at 12:38pm

    Kim Henson You included my word for 2018 in your comment, Susan Blanton Roche – simple/simplicity. I've already started practicing a simpler life, which, in light of this post, means simply getting up each day and doing what I believe God wants me to do just for …See More
    Like · Reply · 2 · December 9 at 2:30am

    Christy Young I too, have looked back and wished I had done less reacting, opining. My mother lives her words and actions. It took me a very long time to get the chip off of my shoulder to see her ways were brave, mature, sacrificial, and far more loving. You are so right Kim, it is an intentional effort to live in this way. Thanks for this blog and your honesty. Iron sharpens iron. Prov. 27:17.
    Love · Reply · 2 · December 9 at 9:50am

    Kim Henson Awe, thanks, Christy Young! ❤ I look at pictures of your mom and I see grace. It's amazing how sometimes we don't even have to meet someone … we just know. I think you're carrying her torch well. 🔥 Shine on!
    Like · Reply · 1 · December 10 at 7:19pm

    Christy Young That means a lot. Love you!
    Love · Reply · 1 · December 11 at 9:11am

    Kim Henson I love you, Christy Young! ❤
    Like · Reply · 1 · December 11 at 9:16am

    Maria Franken “The life you live is the lesson you teach.” I absolutely love this quote and what you wrote about showing, not telling…. I know with little kids, we have to model what we mean, and this philosophy can also work in adult relationships, too. 🙂
    Love · Reply · 2 · December 10 at 11:27am

    Kim Henson I loved that quote too, Maria Franken. ❤ I think I've told you before I'm a quote fanatic. I've loved the ones you've shared and ones you've passed along from your mom. I have certainly heard the sentiment about "the life you live …" dozens of times, so isn't it interesting how much something hits home just by the way it's worded?
    Like · Reply · 1 · December 10 at 7:23pm

    Angie Mojica This is so good, hard, but good. I guess it’s a process too. People pleasing seems to be ingrained in me, and a guilty conscience as well. I must be Catholic somehow too.. 🤔🤷🏽‍♀️😉
    Love · Reply · 1 · December 11 at 12:58pm

    Kim Henson Hahaha, Angie Mojica. I'm sure I'm part Catholic too. I blame it on attending non-denominational churches on the Air Force base up north where I grew up. They were Catholic (and guilt-ridden) in disguise. 😀 It is hard to follow my own advice, but it's harder to live the other way … I can tell a million stories as proof. Thanks for your comment! You always make me either sing along or laugh or both. ❤
    Like · Reply · 1 · December 12 at 12:47am

    Angie Mojica Kim Henson aww, thanks Kim ♥️
    Love · Reply · 1 · December 12 at 7:06am

    Kim Henson Angie Mojica, are you still going to WWW? Since it's back in the old location (that I can find), I hope to get back a few times next year. I'd love to see you in person.
    Like · Reply · 1 · December 12 at 11:45am

    Angie Mojica Kim Henson yes, I’m still going 🙂 we are meeting at Andy’s church ( LifePoint I think?) in January. The time is 6:30pm now. Would be great to see you too! ❤️
    Love · Reply · 1 · December 12 at 12:13pm

    Kim Henson Angie Mojica, thanks! I'm putting it on my calendar for sometime next year. 😀 Maybe sooner than later …
    Like · Reply · 1 · December 13 at 2:15am

    Delilah Lewis Love the quote .
    Love · Reply · 1 · December 11 at 6:23pm

    Kim Henson Me too, Delilah Lewis! ❤ I'm a quote fanatic.
    Like · Reply · December 13 at 8:07pm

    Joel Carter Great blog Kim. Our acts and participation make all the difference in how others perceive and believe our life truths. I'm reminded of these quotes about learning. I'm sure you remember these too. We learn best:
    "10 percent of what we READ
    20 percent of what we HEAR
    30 percent of what we SEE
    50 percent of what we SEE and HEAR
    70 percent of what we SAY and WRITE
    90 percent of what we DO."
    And others learn from us similarly,even if these percentages are a bit different.
    Love · Reply · 2 · December 12 at 12:32pm · Edited

    Kim Henson Our actions do make all the difference, Joel Carter. I've heard those percentages here and there, but never in a list like this one. I appreciate you sharing it. These certainly line up with the way I learn. A good reminder about getting my own life! Thanks, Joel.
    Like · Reply · December 13 at 2:11am

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