Karis: On words and action

by John Karis

Over time, words fall out of use. With them go behaviors.

Our language is intimately linked to our identity, as individuals and as a culture. It influences how we conceptualize, articulate and understand our experience; how we express ourselves and interact with others.

When words or language fall out of use, either by conscious choice or lack of attention, it affects our thinking and behavior often in ways not conducive to constructive, positive growth.

Years ago words like honor, respect, probity, integrity, honesty, conscience, courage and trust were found frequently in our daily language. More importantly, they were found in people’s character. They aptly described an individual’s substance, their inner core as a person. For those around them, this core was a touchstone that gave measure as to how that person would conduct himself, the process by which they acted – personally, professionally or politically.

Whether or not there exists a correlation or causal relationship between our words and behaviors, it matters more that we as individuals no longer frame ourselves, our perspectives or our social paradigm, with words that conceptualize our valuing the core of who we are as human beings – in others or ourselves. We are more concerned with superficial forms than meaningful substance.

On a daily basis, we are bombarded by the superfluous, the insincere, the glossy exterior measures of materials, lives and personalities that in no small way accretes our person, deadening us to the truer, deeper, more sound qualities of who we are and can be. We have become politically correct polished exteriors, with little solidity, truth or character upon which others can put their confidence and trust. If the collective society reflects this, why then would we expect something different in our leaders, for leaders are a reflection of the society.

Real leadership begins with something within, something core. It is the “thinker” and his or her honesty, integrity, courage and conscience that will guide not only what they achieve but how. Without a quality core, individuals crumple like empty beer cans under the pressures of money, influence, greed and power. Their lack of an inner moral compass, a sense of what is true and good, something that is above and beyond their individual needs, tastes and values that must be served, comes apart when they must think, act and decide – especially when it comes to others. History, both modern and ancient, is filled with people who accomplished a great deal for no good. This is no longer sufficient or appropriate for today’s emerging world.

Great leadership sees and sees greatly. It sees selflessly and thus serves others for the best, most noble of reasons. It must see from within its deepest core and find therein the goodness and well-being from which quality thinking, quality actions and quality policies derive. This is true whether it’s leadership as a parent, a teacher, a civil servant, a CEO or most importantly as a citizen – the fundamental building block of society. Leaders, being social reflectors, are only as good or bad as the constituency who supports them, not just by their vote but by who they are and what they do on a daily basis.

If we want a better society, then we as Americans, bestowed with sacrificial gifts to think and act freely, must choose these words, re-invigorate these qualities in others and ourselves. Returning to a deeper truth of who we are, to the inner quality of human existence, rather than the junk food behaviors that serve the lowest levels of life, we will find a unanimity amongst us, a means whereby we can have faith in one another, rely on one another, work with one another and, finally, make a better life in our homes, our towns, our communities and in our nation – with a few simple words.

John Karis is writer and facilitator in Blue River. E-mail him at

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