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Saying It’s So — A Moral Teaching Tale

Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim ...Read More

“If 50 million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.”
—Anatole France

A number of wealthy businessmen not only had weaseled a “pork belly” bill into Congress that would nicely line their own pockets, they had the bravado and nerve to ask for a meeting with the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, to help secure the deal. Upon reflection and deciding how he wished to handle this situation, Lincoln agreed to a brief meeting. Bearing the introductions, social niceties and presenting a very brief overview of the bill these businessmen wanted the President’s support with, Lincoln said he had only one question.

When cordially requested to voice his question, Lincoln pointedly asked, “How many legs would a sheep have if you counted its tail as a leg?” After just moments of contemplation, the men agreed the sheep would have five legs. Lincoln gave them a wry smile saying, “No it wouldn’t! It would still have four. Saying it’s so doesn’t make it so!” With that, Lincoln quickly shooed these greedy businessmen out of his office and let them know in no uncertain terms that he had no intention of supporting a bill that would greatly aid the wealthy few at the cost of the greater good of the untold many.

Author Unknown

Whether this story is true or apocryphal and never transpired matters not. What matters is how profoundly astute this was, is and ever will remain. This wisdom will only serve you every moment lifelong, if you truly take it to heart and into practice. Author Ernest Hemingway brilliantly depicted this distinction, “Never confuse movement with action.” Words are actually nothing more than hot air running over vocal cords. When words are put into action and lived, we all can trust them. In fact, there is a wonderfully deep Zen statement that goes, “To know and not to do, is not yet to fully know.” How true. Understatement coupled with competent actions impresses nearly everyone and builds authentic rapport, relationship and confidence.

People have a tremendous proclivity to make verbal utterances, many of which can mesmerize and entrance a good number of other people, especially the female of the species. What if all these wonderfully convincing words are only words-hot air running over vocal cords? Unless the words uttered are backed up with behaviors or actions, what use are they, and what credibility are they to be given?

Words quite regularly are not even what practically works in life. A Chinese proverb goes, “Talk doesn’t cook rice.” Sun Bear, a native American Chippewa Indian, observed the same point in reference to questioning the “philosophy” of national governmental agencies, specifically the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management, in sending representatives to Indian reservations to “teach” this highly practical and spiritually imbued culture to do the simplest activities like irrigation, growing crops and so on. American Indian tribes often have a staple crop that is central to their culture. Sun Bear declares, “I don’t believe in any philosophy that doesn’t help raise corn!” Raising corn takes more than fancy words.

To invest in words, without commensurate follow through in concrete actions, is tantamount to the folly of investing in Florida property that happens to be under twelve feet of water. It is not a good deal. So consider taking all words with a huge grain of salt. To see, feel and know what is so in this moment is all that is real, all that exists, all that is so. You can bet on it.

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