Monday, April 18, 2005

Thought vs. Action

I've been thinking recently about what leads to action. What determines the actions we make? Most people I think would say simply the decision to do something. But if you think about this, you would see that this is not true. Have you ever decided to do something, and then just never got around to it? I know I have done this many times even when I honestly thought it was a good thing and really wanted to do it. That proves for me at least that decision does not necessarily lead to action.

When I read this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer I realized the answer:

“We have spent too much time in thinking, supposing that if we weigh in advance the possibilities of any action, it will happen automatically. We have learnt, rather too late, that action comes, not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility. For thought and action will enter on a new relationship; your thinking will be confined to your responsibilities in action.”

This quote has given me a new understanding of how we choose our actions. We have no natural impulse toward any one action, because goodness can exist in any course of action. When we make a decision to do something we are merely saying "I see goodness in this course of action." This same thing can be said of just about any action that we make. Like the quote says, action comes only when we choose to accept the responsibility that comes with that action. Of course we think there are a lot of things that would be good to do; the question is what are we willing to accept responsibility for. That is what we must answer before we can change our behavior.


  1. Ah! Responsibility. Accepting the responsibilities of one's own actions is what makes an honest individual, often what tips us over the edge into making that difficult decision is (and you are right) being able to deal with what follows. I live by unwritten and simple rules: I know myself, I consider myself a good person. If by making a decision I am not causing injury or harm to another then live for the moment, you only live once. Make the decision and follow it through.

    Often decisions can be made by knowing you are right, if I truly beleive I am....I go for it.

  2. jennifer smith4/18/2005 7:09 PM

    um...just wanna take issue with the fact that goodness can exist in any course of action. i strongly disagree, and if you think about that statement i imagine you'll see why.

  3. Yeah I misphrased that definitely. What I had in the back of my mind I guess was Plato's claim that any action is done because of some good that the doer thinks will come from that action (which may or may not be true).

    But I don't even really need to say all that in what I was trying to say in the post. I just meant that we see goodness in many things, so just seeing the goodness in one of them is not enough to ensure that we will act in that way.