I bought a present for someone recently.
It wasn’t some generic gift, ordered on Amazon at the last second. It was a thoughtful, personalized gift. It required some planning and a modicum of effort.
Still, I was a little worried about how it would be received. (Isn’t that the irony of gift giving? The more thought and effort we put into a gift, the more invested — and oftentimes anxious — we are about the reaction it will get.)
I tried to assuage myself the with oft-recited adage, “Well, it’s the thought that counts.”
The purpose of this adage, of course, is to remind us that it isn’t the physical gift itself that matters so much as the thought behind its creation and/or purchase.
It’s a pleasant notion to consider, and it reminds us that people and relationships and intangibles like love matter more than material, physical goods.
In that moment it hit me how wrong that statement is.
It’s the thought that counts.
No it’s not.
It’s not the thought that counts. It’s the action and effort the thought compelled, and therefore the allocation of our precious resources of time and perhaps money too. That’s what counts.
Because those things — actions, effort, and where we invest of our scarcest resources — are clear and inarguable representations of our priorities, of what matter to us.
Thoughts? They’re a dime a dozen.
What difference would it have made to the recipient of my gift if I had simply thought about the gift, but not taken the action and effort to create it, pay for it, and deliver it?
Would that thought have counted to him or her?
All it might have done, perhaps, is make me feel a little better … because, hey, at least I hadn’t totally forgotten about this gift-giving occasion, right?
Thoughts left unsaid and un-acted-upon can make for convenient little self-prescribed rationalization pills that soothe regretful pangs of guilt.
But that doesn’t do anything for the other person.
And unless we’re content to live narcissistic lives devoid of empathy and connection, the impact of our actions — and inactions — on other people should matter to us.
Notice I didn’t say the impact of our thoughts on other people. There was a very specific reason for that. Our thoughts don’t impact other people. Our thoughts only impact us.
It’s only when thoughts are translated into words and actions that they can begin to matter to anyone outside ourselves.
That’s a reality of life we ought always remember.
So no … it’s not the thought that counts. It’s only the manifestation of that thought into action that makes any difference whatsoever.
What have you been thinking about doing for someone else, but haven’t yet actually done yet? How can you turn that thought into an action that will matter?
And what is stopping you from doing it right now (or later today)?
Be better now.
Flickr Creative Commons Image via Ivan — The gift