Words Have Power – Choose Wisely

I learned early on in my teaching career that words have an incredible amount of power.  I could say the simplest thing and absolutely make a student’s day.  However, the opposite also rang true.  I could say something without thinking that had the ability to severely upset a student as well.

We are taught: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”  I don’t know about you, but my friends and I would use this as a mantra in grade school.  It served as almost a spell that warded off  insults.  We teach this to children because we know the cruelty that exists in childhood.  Kids say hurtful things to each other.  Sometimes on purpose with an intent to harm, but usually due to a lack of maturity.

As we get older and wiser, most of us learn to wield are words with caution.  We gain empathy.  We acquire the ability to consider the consequences of our words.  We understand that once a string of words is uttered, it can never be taken back.  We choose our words carefully.

Whether I like it or not, I am an authority figure when in my classroom.  I watch every single word I say because I know that my voice has the most power within those four walls.  My voice sets the tone of the room.  My words influence the actions of my students.  If I am calm, kind, encouraging, and articulate, my students’ mirror that.

During the first few years of my career, when I was barely past twenty-five, I enjoyed zinging my students.  We liked to banter with each other.  Typically, the insults were playful and harmless — I thought I was being funny.  However, sometimes a student would take it too far, and I would get upset.  I eventually realized that I had nothing to get upset about — the students were following my lead.  I set that tone.  My words dictated their actions.

In my early thirties, I stopped zinging kids.  I kept the jokes goofy and innocent — “dad jokes,” as my students call them.  Since then, I’ve found that the environment in my classroom has become far more relaxed, far more tolerant, and far more supportive.

Authority figures must be careful with their words.  I disagree with the notion that leaders have to “tell it like it is” because “like it is” is often a matter of perspective, and “like it is” is typically rooted in an agenda of some sort.  My “like it is” is not the same as your “like it is.”

There’s nothing wrong with considering others’ feelings.  There’s wisdom in predicting the potential ramifications of words.  There’s decency in showing restraint.

Choosing words that inform, inspire, and invigorate — that’s true leadership.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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Why It’s Hard To Write About Uncomfortable Things, and Why We Need To Do It Anyway

If you visit this website frequently, you realize that–other than my fiction–I tend to focus on fairly noncontroversial topics like movies, books, TV shows, and sports.  Sure, movie fans can get worked up, as can book lovers, but it’s not like anyone from my personal life is going to stop talking to me because of my take on Justice League.

My fiction is a different matter.  I’ve dealt with miscarriage, politics, religion, and everything else society tells us to avoid discussing, but I’ve done so with nuance and embedded within the lives of my characters.

On this blog, though, where anyone can pop in with minimal effort, I exercise quite a bit of self-restraint.

Do I have opinions about Donald Trump?  Of course.  Do I think about the NFL and its flag controversy?  Absolutely.  Do I firmly believe we have severe problems in our great nation regarding class and race?  Definitely.  But I tend to avoid writing about those things because, well, I don’t want to deal with the fallout.

I will often talk myself out of addressing those topics because I fear professional complications, personal ramifications, or even violent repercussions against my family.  Frankly, it’s easier to say nothing–to avoid making waves.

But here’s the thing–I can avoid making waves.  The fact that I have every advantage in the world is not lost upon me.  I can sit back, keep my mouth shut, and keep living a pretty sweet life.  No one is bothering me.  No one is oppressing me.  No one is attacking me.  No one is threatening me.  I can stay the course and be just fine because of my lot in life.

Is that right?

I don’t think it is.

Some would disagree, but I feel that I’ve been given a gift in that I can express myself through the written word.  My ideas flow through my fingers fairly concisely and articulately.  I am able to write about important issues whereas others can’t.

But I often choose not to.

Is that right?  If I believe in something, and if the expression of my beliefs could have positive implications for others, am I under a moral obligation to voice those thoughts?

I think I am.

Going forward, I’m going to strive to write about topics that I deem important regarding politics, social justice, religion, and community.

It terrifies me to do so.

Which is why I know I should follow through with this endeavor.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

Hope In the Dark by Rebecca Solnit – A Book Review

It so happened that on the morning of January 13th, I rode in my car and heard Rebecca Solnit on the NPR program entitled On the Media.  She read an excerpt from her 2004 book called Hope In the Dark.  Her reading, as well as her subsequent interview, convinced me that I had to experience the work for myself.

She begins with a quote from Virginia Woolf during WWI that says, “The future is dark, which is on the whole, the best thing the future can be, I think.”  Solnit goes on to clarify that, in this case, darkness does not equate disaster, it merely reminds us that the future is ultimately unknown.

These are troubling times, and it is by no accident that this book, which is well over ten years old, is experiencing a resurgence.  Hope In the Dark illustrates some horrific calamities of the late 20th Century, but it also goes on to discuss how those disasters served as a catalyst to change, real change—positive change.  It also spends a great deal of time illustrating that the most potent of such change came through the efforts of people, regular citizens, standing up, taking action, and making their voices heard.

And even though some of these events may seem dated, if you read carefully enough, you’ll realize that the specific things she’s focusing upon absolutely have an effect on today’s local and global political climate, and, well, meteorological climate for that matter!

It is with great satisfaction that I read this book even as the Women’s March in Washington and throughout the world ensued.  It proved that what she said then is undeniably applicable today.  Our peaceful action speaks volumes; our voices can and will be heard.

Many of us feel hopeless today, but this book will instill faith in your fellow citizen … and yourself.  It will inspire you to do something, no matter how small, and to make your voice resonate.  It will, in the end, help you to realize that the future is dark, but, as Solnit points out, many things grow in the dark, things that later offer both beauty and sustenance.

We have the power to make our own story; we have the means to create our own future.

(If you’d like to listen to Solnit’s appearance during On the Media, visit this link: http://www.wnyc.org/story/rebecca-solnit-hope-lies-and-making-change/)

 

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About County Board Candidate Dave Van Allen

If you live in West Bloomington’s District 8, odds are you’ve probably already met County Board candidate Dave Van Allen.  After all, so far he’s visited 1500 households!

I don’t live in West Bloomington, therefore I can’t vote for Dave.  Furthermore, I won’t pretend to be an expert on politics in general, including those of Dave Van Allen.  However, I can comment on Dave as a long-time friend.

I met Dave Van Allen almost seven years ago after he began dating my friend and coworker, Amanda.  Since then, I’ve been to his wedding, played with his adorable baby boy, attended countless dinners with him and his wife, lost innumerable card games along his side, and even helped move him into his 92-year-old house.  In other words, I’ve gotten to know Dave pretty well over the years, long before he ever considered running for the County Board.

Dave Van Allen has always struck me as a calm personality.  I’ve never seen him upset, even when perhaps he had every right to be during some heated card games.  He takes everything in stride, and when met with a challenge, finding a solution is his first objective.  Dave is the antithesis of “erratic”-his words, actions, and demeanor are purposeful, composed, and peaceful.

Consequently, Dave Van Allen is also one of the most business-minded people I’ve ever met.  Though it doesn’t consume his existence, Dave is very enthusiastic about finances and fiscal responsibility.  Finding the most cost-efficient means of executing an action is not only a preference for Dave, it’s a full-on sport!  Watching him spare no effort in finding the best deal has always been both amusing and impressive, and I have gone to him for financial advice on several occasions.

But, even with that being said, Dave is far more than just a savvy businessman.  Dave is also a kind husband and loving father.  He is a devoted Christian and active member in his church.  He cares about his community and is endlessly eager to find ways to improve it.

I assure you Dave Van Allen is a good husband, a good father, a good community member, and a good friend.  In my mind, it only stands to reason he will make a good representative on the County Board as well.  I ask that you keep him in mind come November 4th.

Learn more about Dave Van Allen at his website:

http://www.votevanallen.com/index.php?link=home

-Scott William Foley

A Rare Rant

Note: Originally Published 8-8-06

One of my objectives with this blog is to post somewhat humorous, entertaining articles that will entice the reader to come back for more.  However, even I must sometimes lament the horrors of this world.  While I always keep my audience in mind, sometimes the desire to express an issue troubling me overtakes my writing and thus you get an article like what you are about to read.  I hope you will bear with me.

When I sit and think about what I want to write about in these blogs, more often than not they revolve around popular culture or news about my work.  As I’m in something of a creative slump at the moment while I wait for my latest book to come out, I don’t have much news to announce.  Therefore, I find myself always looking for something dealing with pop culture to write about.  There’s a lot to choose from at the moment.  We’ve got Mel’s drunken rage, Paris vowing to ward off other people’s genitalia for a whole year, the NFL preseason has started, the USA basketball team is playing exhibition games, and so on.  But it’s hard for me to take all of that seriously at the moment when I look at what’s going on in this world of ours.

I watch what’s happening in Israel and Lebanon on the television and have to wonder When will it end?  When will a conflict that’s been off an on for literally centuries ever end?  I think about how long our men and women have been in Iraq and have to wonder When will it end?  I’m sickened at the fact that I sometimes forget we even have men and women in Iraq and the Middle East.  Isn’t that terrible?  What’s worse, I fear I may not be the only one who sometimes forgets our soldiers are in the midst of a war. 

I am not a particularly political person.  I don’t necessarily vote straight ticket.  I tend to vote for whomever seems to be the smartest candidate, so don’t take this as a political rant against a particular politician.  I simply cannot fathom how the husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, and children of these brave men and women are dealing with their loved ones still stationed over there, and I simply cannot understand how our nation’s politicians seem to be sweeping it under the rug! 

I support our troops, no doubt.  I thank them and I thank their families for the sacrifices they are making.  I know that if it were not for people like them, people massively braver than myself, our nation would not be the place of freedom and liberty that it is today.  I just wish our politicians felt the same.

But here’s the thing: it is not ultimately the politicians’ fault.  It is ours.  What I mean by that is the fact that we vote the politicians in.  This nation is a democracy, after all.  Now, I know the cynics’ argue that only those with money can achieve any real level of power in the political echelon of America, but that argument only goes so far.  If everyone voted for the little politicians, you know, the men and women at the local level, if we voted for the best candidates at those levels and made sure they stuck to their word, there would be a grassroots change in the American political system.  Our democracy is a large organism made up of many, many smaller pieces, and it thrives and survives off those smaller pieces.  We may not be able to control the fact that the rich families are the most likely to be able to fund massive political campaigns, but we can control whether they get any support from the smaller components making up their political party. 

Yes, this sort of idea is nothing new.  But, when we have people voting more for American Idol on a weekly basis than we do for our presidential elections, there is a problem.  We all, myself included, and I am far from innocent in this argument, must get out there and vote for those local politicians and hold them accountable.  The average citizen can take control of our country, if we can only get off our couches to do so.

Please offer a prayer or a thought for those men and women fulfilling their sworn duties in Iraq, and please offer a prayer or a thought for a resolution between Israel and Lebanon.  When I think of all the hate in this world and the weapons everyone has, sometimes I’m amazed we are still here at all.

Thanks for bearing with my rant…

The Importance of Action

Note:  Originally Published 10-14-07

You may have seen on the news lately the wise and all-knowing talking heads are coming down pretty hard on Barack Obama because he dared to put on a suit without an American flag pin on his lapel. 

It must have been a slow news day, for this thing blew up and he was finally forced to defend himself by saying that his actions display his patriotism far more than simply wearing a pin.

I found the whole thing pretty funny because it reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer took part in an Aids walk, but refused to wear the ribbon.  He ultimately got ganged up on by the other walkers and beaten up because he refused to wear the ribbon, even though he was actively taking part in the walk.  He finished the walk, by the way, though he had to drag himself across the finish line.

After 911, I think wearing the American flag pin proved to solidify one’s own resolve in their patriotism; it served to reassure people in distressing times; and it simply made people feel better on the inside.  Somehow, however, as the years went by we started judging each other on if we wore a pin.  And, as is the unfortunate trend, we have now exploited the pin to a degree where if a high level politician is seen without it, it becomes the main topic of the day across the news.  The original purpose of the pin has been objectified and bent to serve ulterior motives, and I find that despicable.  In my mind, that pin serves as a metaphor for far greater issues taking place within our nation.

I’m not a particularly political person.  I don’t vote straight Republican or Democrat.  I try to go with whoever seems most intelligent on the issues that I feel are important.  And one issue that is important to me is the fact so many of us, myself included, talk a big game but rarely take any true form of action.  We dream; we wish; we say what we’re going to do; we brag about accomplishments yet to be executed; yet, when it comes time to actually tally the score, few of us find that we have lived up to our own talk.  And then, when people actually hold us accountable for failing to live up to our boasts, we take offense.

I worry that we’ve become a nation of talkers, not doers.  What’s the point of wearing a flag if your actions don’t display patriotism in the least?  What’s the point of saying how awesome you are if you’ve never actually done anything?  We’re becoming a culture that praises people who have no discernable accomplishments, and then we mock those that do.  This is troubling.

This is beginning to sound judgmental and harsh, and it’s certainly not meant to.  I actually wanted this little essay to be motivating.  I wanted to encourage you to chase your dreams, to go out and make something special happen!  I wanted to get you psyched up not just to wear the pin, but also to actually do something that validates the pin!

So, what are you waiting for?  Get out there and take action!