In promoting virtues, values and morality, we often hear people quoting the clichés “Actions speak louder than words,” or in a more religious context, “practice what you preach [teach].” Both aforementioned [clichés] always lead to conclusive remark such as “there is no other [effective] means to teach and impart goodness than to radiate it through concrete life examples.” The said conclusion (from the stated clichés) is not just merely sayings that we can immediately ignore [dismissed] or simply treated as a product of long time opinions (or an impulsive realization of the mind) espoused by elders of the community without any basis or explanation behind. In fact, it has a deep philosophical grounding principles tested throughout the course of time that undergone series of rigorous debates and considerations from numerous thinkers such as [German Philosophers] Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer.
To understand the very meaning of the clichés [mentioned] above. The perspectives of the two [thinkers] would be a great help. Schopenhauer in his book “The World as Will and Representation” acknowledged Kant’s two elements of knowledge: Intuition and Concepts. If we are talking about intuition, it is something concrete; immediate experiences. Whereas, concepts, are something abstracted (when we say abstraction, it is the ability of the mind to extract – to get a common definition of something from the object of thought - or to impose and classify universal idea to the object. As for example, we have an idea of what a flower is, because our minds define what this flower is based on our [knowledge] that corresponds with others. In a more layman’s term – abstraction is highly theoretical, purely intellectual exercises) by the mind.
Now, going back to morality, every time we emphasize the value and importance of virtues (living a well-balanced life, a habitualization of an act to make it a character) in our lives, we cannot fully express [communicate] them (virtues) through language and words; and its elements such as kindness, compassion, care, love, justice, etc, because by nature, virtue is a product of pure cognition (intuition – immediate experience) and not of abstraction; therefore, virtue can only be transmitted and communicated effectively through action (living by example) than words. Schopenhauer would say that the only things that we can define, explain, and express by language through words (effectively) are those ideas that are abstracted and never of those from purely cognition. Therefore, if you say to a person that you love him/her so much in the absence of concrete action (if you cannot manifest in deeds), it is vain; the said person will refuse to believe because love is considered as a virtue that can be proved [convincingly] by concrete experiences (that is the philosophical explanation of the song “More than Words” composed and sang by the American Band - Extreme, but made popularized by Westlife). Hence, if you cannot express how you love a person through a constructed words of syntax, or maybe, some would just say “my feelings for you are far beyond any adjectives.” Then, the perfect timing to prove your love to that person through an action has come. As the great William Shakespeare once mentioned, “speak low, if you speak love.” In other words, if you are in love, you do not have to shout how you feel towards a person and be proud of it merely by words, the point is, show it by example – live with it
Same line of arguments applied if we preach about God and HIS goodness (on the basis of merely lip service) in the absence of good works, it might be considered as ineffective at all; especially in this contemporary era that most people are skeptical to anything related to spiritual or acts of charity. The first thing that always enters their mind is, can someone prove through their works or examples the goodness that they are talking about?
To explain the nature of God, intellectuals used the method of abstraction only for the purpose of understanding and explaining HIS existence or non-existence (though still limited), but to convey HIS [teachings] messages (it is a different approach), words are insufficient, because God is considered as the Highest Good (again, a Supreme Virtue) which cannot be communicated effectively (I intentionally keep inserting the word effectively from time to time to emphasize the essential role of concrete action as the foremost ground in transmitting virtues other than words. To say and conclude that proclaiming the word of God by preaching is [already] considered as unnecessary practice is totally beside the point to what I’m driving at) except by good works and examples. No matter how well verse you are in the scriptures but if you cannot demonstrate [manifest] that by good examples, it is futile. Silent doers (in the modern times) are the most convincing messengers of the word, than those who publicly exclaim [profess] the name of God, preaching HIS goodness and salvation, but insensitive with the needs of others and only cater their [personal] needs and exposure.
As Schopenhauer himself would say (as a conclusion): “Virtue does indeed come from cognition, but not from abstract cognition that can be communicated through words. A truly good disposition, disinterested virtue, and nobility of mind do not start with abstract cognition, but nonetheless begin with cognition – namely, an immediate and intuitive cognition that cannot be reasoned for or reasoned away, a cognition that cannot be communicated, precisely because, it is not abstract. This cognition must come from each person, and this is not truly and adequately expressed in words, but only in deeds, in actions, in the course of a person’s life.” (Colin Marshall, Journal of the History of Philosophy, 2017)