Behavior is Truth…but lying is interesting, as well


**SPOILERS for “Deadpool” and “Coco”**


I don’t know about you, but I loved the first Deadpool (and enjoyed the second, but didn’t “love” it the same way).  One thing that works is an aspect of the characterization. Yeah, despite breaking the fourth wall, there really is a character arc in there.  And they use the “Behavior is truth” plotting technique.   There are a few basic principles here:


  1. We are what we do, FAR more than we are what we think, feel, or say we are.
  2. Anything you learn that changes BEHAVIOR has actually made an impact. If it just rattles around in your head but your behaviors do not change, it was trivial.
  3. We are “Gaslit” when people convince us to pay more attention to what is said than what is done.
  4. It starts with ourselves.   Look at all four basic aspects of our lives: love, health, career, finances.  Assume that a healthy human being can have all four of these, if they learn balance and focus over time.    If you see major issues in any one of them, pay attention.
  5. And…in dealing with other people, while it is “rude” to poke your nose into their lives, it is reasonable to look at their results in these four when evaluating their thought processes.  People often want you to believe them, or their perceptions, or to value their opinions above your own.  Very easy principle: if they have better results than you in these areas, PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT THEY SAY.  If their results are about the same, that’s an interesting conversation. If their results are worse…assume that they are asleep, and circle back to them later to see if they’re waking up.  It is true that homeless people might have insight into stock market tips, but I suggest you will overall be better off taking anything said by someone who doesn’t have the behavioral evidence with a big grain of salt. Anyone can talk a good game.




So…one application of this is to notice people who project a false self image, or have one.  Sometimes it is excessively grandiose.  They think that they are smarter, better, more accomplished than anyone else in the room.  People who really ARE smarter and more accomplished tend to compare themselves to themselves–they want to be better and smarter than they were yesterday. What you’re doing is sort of irrelevant, except in an abstract “isn’t that interesting?” sort of way.


If they need to be smarter than you?  They are terrified that they are dumber than someone else.   They’re looking at life as a hierarchy, and trying to find where they are on the ladder.  The more important it is they be better than you, the more worried they are about who and what they really are.


What’s the flip side to this?  Someone who insists that they are WORSE than average.


As Andrew Vachss says in a very different context, “Behavior is truth.”   What you DO speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you SAY.  For instance, if a man says he is brave, and on his way to work passes a flaming school bus filled with screaming children, and he just drives on by…you would be right to question his self-evaluation.


On the other hand, imagine a second man.  He considers himself a coward.  But HE stops and risks his life to save those kids.


You would, again, be correct to question HIS self-evaluation as well.


In “Deadpool”, Wade is constantly telling us that he is not a hero. But when we first meet him he is helping a girl free herself of a stalker. He also refuses money to kill another girl’s stepfather (I think that was who it was).   His “I’m not a hero” mantra conflicts directly with what we see: a man capable of love, sacrifice, courage.   After the mutation program, his mind is shattered, and we are pulled into his crazy world. Note that his fantasies don’t affect the OUTSIDE world, only his perceptions thereof.   His hallucinations and fourth-wall breaking and so forth are reminders that we are dealing with a severely damaged mind.


But…despite that damage, what do we see?   He is violent but compassionate and loyal, he is able to restrain (more or less) that violence to appropriate targets.  He is able to inspire loyalty in good people.    And the overall scope of his behaviors has brought more order to the world than chaos.   He IS a hero, despite his self-image.  In fact, it is the contrast between his image and the reality that drives an entire thread of the movie.




Imagine the opposite, as presented in say “Coco”, in which a famous singing/movie star has an amazing heroic image, but we come to see that he is a murdering, lying, thieving scumbag.  This entire part of the film is based on the “gap” between behavior and words or image.


In my own work, I happened to love Aubry Knight and his daughter/son Leslie.  Aubry has an unrealistic self image of being physically invulnerable but unemotional and well…sort of dumb.  Frankly, he was my own self-image turned upside-down.  Over the course of the books, he learns the limits of his physicality, the power of his emotions, and to think strategically.


His child Leslie is another matter.  Leslie was stolen from her mother’s womb and programmed to be the most lethal pound-for-pound assassin who ever lived. Because of terrible things she did, she simply cannot accept herself as a positive being.   It was SO much evil fun to craft that internal dialogue and contrast it with acts of mind-boggling heroism and skill and heart.  Wow, do I love those characters.


You can use this technique to create characters, but also to look at other people:


  1. What do their behaviors suggest if those behaviors influence their results in love, career, finances, and physicality?
  2. What do they project or try to get you to believe about these things? Do they accept responsibility?  Evade it?  Put it on other people?  Society?   Genetics?


The trick, of course, is that sometimes you DO run into walls from environment or genetics. No question.   How do you know the difference?


This will be art, not science. And that means that your own guide will be your own feelings.  To refine them and align them with your intellect, you have to apply this to YOURSELF.


You do that by looking at your own flaws and failures, as well as your successes and contributions.  Look at all four areas, and TAKE RESPONSIBILITY.   If you find yourself falling into guilt, you have identified a wound: you need more self-love.  Remember that? That’s why it is step #1: LOVE YOURSELF.


Otherwise, you won’t have the courage to really look.  You’ll be afraid that if you go deeply enough, you will find something ugly and twisted.   Anyone who believes that there is something beautiful within them will have no problem looking deeply.  When you look deeply, and see what behaviors have led to what results, what beliefs, emotions and values would have led to those behaviors, and constantly question WHERE those beliefs, emotions and values came from…you are on the road.


Asking yourself if they reflect your actual belief about the universe, about humanity, whether they match your actual observations of human beings, and explain your own behaviors…you are on the road.


And if you learn things that are true, how do you know?  They will begin to change your behaviors. Your beliefs, values, emotions, outcomes and behaviors will all start to align.  That’s how you know when you have learned or uncovered Truth. It is like being a human laser.  Most people, at best, are like a magnifying glass.  But the closer to truth you are, the more you will be a healthy animal with a human mind.  Care of Body, career, love, and finances (saving your nuts for the winter!) will all be increasingly simple.  Just…what you do every day.  Chop Wood, Carry Water. Lots of work, but no struggle.


This is what we have when we are aligned with the natural world within and outside us. It is a way we can measure whether others have actually learned anything as opposed to just “thinking” about it (that is “waking up your Kundalini from the top down”).   And it is a great way to build characters: all stories are about the revelation of character, but when you contrast what people SAY they are with what they actually are…


You are going deeper into the process of both living and writing.


And…that’s Lifewriting.




Steven Barnes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s