“It’s better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hand.” Apache Proverb – Self-Expression
How do we know when our actions will speak louder than our words?
“Talk is cheap,” as the saying goes. Talking about doing something is easy, but actually doing it is much harder. Doing things requires risk-taking, embracing uncertainty, and the knowledge that you just might be making mistakes along the way. Yet, depending on the person doing it, speaking also requires proactive risk, especially if your ideas aren’t welcome or your voice has been marginalized in the past. Summoning the courage to speak up and setting priorities on when to act are difficult tasks, no matter what our age.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts – founders of Teach Different and twin brothers with over 50 years of teaching experience – along with Lindsey Wander- Founder of WorldWise Tutoring and the non-profit organization Educate. Radiate. Elevate., for a conversation on self-expression, enriched by the Teach Different Method. Whether you are a teacher, school leader, or simply someone interested in experiencing the joy and fulfillment of challenging kids with big ideas, join our worldwide Community of Educators FREE for 30 days. Membership includes access to our robust library of resources, conversation plans, and lively discussions among teachers and faculty.
Image Credit: Smithsonian Institution
Dan Fouts 00:00
Hello, Steve and Dan Fouts here from Teach Different, veteran teachers from the United States bringing educators together from around the world to learn a simple conversation method which we model on this podcast for you. Teachdifferent.com is your home to an online community of educators. We’re working together to master the art and science of conversations, and don’t forget to check out our dynamic coaching programs offered through our proud partnership with the Conversation Project at convoproject.org. Let’s keep the conversations going together.
Well, hello, everybody. Welcome to the Teach Different podcast. We’re extremely excited tonight to share an interesting Apache proverb on speaking up versus doing things, and to discuss the tension between those two actions. We’ll get to that in a moment.
We have a wonderful guest tonight, Lindsey Wander from Worldwise Tutoring. She’ll be introducing herself and some of the work that she does. She also has a nonprofit agency, so she’s very, very busy.
Dan Fouts 01:19
For those unfamiliar, we have a protocol we’re going to follow here. We’re going to start with a quote, break down the quote into the claim, what we think that quote means, and interpret it in our own words. Then, we’re going to push against it a little bit and think about a counterclaim, an equally reasonable way of looking at the world that puts the claim in tension. If questions surface, we’ll share those as well. That way, we have a vigorous organic conversation. If you’re just listening to this to enjoy a great conversation, wonderful. If you’re a teacher or an administrator, and you have a classroom full of students, great. You can use this one as well.
So, with that introduction, here is the quote. I’ll say it a couple of times, and then we’ll let Lindsey weigh in on it. “It’s better to have less thunder in the mouth, and more lightning in the hand.” “It’s better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hand.” Lindsay, welcome to the Teach Different podcast. Great to see you.
Lindsey Wander 02:34
Thanks for having me. Do I jump right in?
Dan Fouts 02:39
Jump right in. What do you think? What’s your interpretation?
Lindsey Wander 02:43 – Claim
When I first heard this, well read it, I felt like it was a more colorful way of basically saying “actions speak louder than words,” or even “talk is cheap.” To me, it’s basically encouraging the person reading it, or hearing it, to take action, not just talk about the action that needs to be taken. Which is why it definitely resonated with me and why I selected it, because that’s really what my whole life is about. It’s one thing to talk about something, it’s another thing to actually do it. I do find myself in a position where I’m constantly encouraging people to move beyond the talk into the action.
What I interpret this to mean, essentially, is while it’s important to have those preliminary discussions, perhaps about change that needs to be made or new innovations that need to be created, it’s only so much if all you do is talk about it. You have to actually have that lightning in your hand and do something about it. Otherwise, nothing will change. No progress is made. While they both are important, this quote is weighing the action heavier.
Steve Fouts 04:04
Great. And Lindsey, did you want to just share a little bit about what you do at your day job, if there is one any more.
Lindsey Wander 04:15
Yeah, day, night, weekends, all the time. I alluded to it a little bit by saying I’ve kind of found myself in a position where I’m pushing people to take that action. I basically became a professional mentor of not just students, but also of other mentors of other educators. My business is Worldwise Tutoring, and Dan, a lot of people call it Worldwide, but I had to spin a little flavor in there. So, it’s Worldwise Tutoring with the mission of helping students grow into global citizens, which is the play on the word there.
What I really focus on with my tutoring agency is not just guiding people on a path to academic success or career success, but we really work on helping them find their passions, interests and learning the skills they need to be successful. It’s not always just can you do this math problem, it’s often about can you creatively solve problems. That’s one example. Thinking more about the soft skills. I hate that they’re called soft skills, because they should be called superpowers, the necessary and essential, can’t live without them, skills. In the education world, we call them executive functions – metacognition, interpersonal skills, basically the underlying learning and life skills that will help you to be successful. One of our mottos in the organization is to create competent and conscious leaders. This partially ties into the code as well, that you have to have the right mindset and be able to think of good ideas and changes that are needed. But, you have to also be conscious and able to implement those in a meaningful way.
I think we mentioned, or maybe it was in our prior discussion, that I started a nonprofit during the pandemic. The nonprofit is giving our same high quality tutoring but to underserved students. I believe that everybody deserves the same support in their learning. Learning is the way and it’s the key to be able to get to the future that you want. So in both cases, I’m really searching and pursuing the goal of uplifting people through education.
Steve Fouts 06:38
That’s great. And the nonprofit is more recent, obviously.
Lindsey Wander 06:44
Yeah, I formed it during the pandemic. It’s called Educate, Radiate, Elevate. It was my way of using the resources and expertise that I have to assist the students that were falling even further behind because of the school closures. The students that don’t have the resources to pay for a tutor or to access outside learning materials. We call this the achievement gap, and the gap just widened even more for them. I wanted to be able to assist wherever I could with that. We’ve grown very fast, and our students are doing very well. I’m happy about that.
Steve Fouts 07:24
That’s great. I don’t know how much you know about Teach Different, but we had something in the same spirit. We formed a social event. We call it a social impact initiative, called The Conversation Project. We’re trying to do the same thing. If you have valuable skill building activities, and you’re doing good work, you want to make sure that it’s accessible to everyone, especially people who need it the most. Right? Conversation, this is what we do. That’s just awesome. That is awesome.
Lindsey Wander 08:01
Steve Fouts 08:03
Dan, read it again. I’m already interested in your take on this, Lindsey. You have a take that I didn’t think of. Dan, read it again.
Dan Fouts 08:17
“It’s better to have less thunder in the mouth, and more lightning in the hand.”
Steve Fouts 08:24
One more time.
Dan Fouts 08:26
“It’s better to have less thunder in the mouth, and more lightning in the hand.”
Steve Fouts 08:32
Okay. Lindsey, you took the approach of “actions speak louder than words.” It’s one thing to have ideas, but implementing them, turning ideas into reality is where it’s really important. That’s interesting. When I heard this quote, I picked up on these words that almost sounded like there was something happening with them, thunder and lightning. Dan, you have to tell me how you took this. I was thinking of the quote as also saying something about power. What’s the best way to exert or express power or influence? That’s kind of the take I had on it. I guess that would make the claim a little different for me. Basically saying that if you’re going to express power or influence, do it through your actions, not what you’re talking about. Do it through your actions, not your words, but it has to have power in it. Dan, what did you…
Steve Fouts 09:53
Dan Fouts 09:53
Yeah, I don’t think… My reading isn’t very different from what I think Lindsey was saying. That would be my bridge there. “Actions speak louder than words.” I think you could read power into that interpretation. Talking is one thing, but acting is another. If you think of power as influence, then how do you influence the world? How do you influence other people? Do you do it through talking about it? What kinds of things do you actually do? That’s my take.
Lindsey Wander 10:05
Well, I think the word choice was really strategic. Thunder and lightning are both powerful. Right? It didn’t say a whisper versus lightning. It wasn’t downplaying the mouth, the action of speaking. It’s just saying that if you really want to have an impact that has a lasting change and affects things, then you have to go to the lightning part. Thunder isn’t doing anything. It’s like all bark, no bite. I’m sure we know a lot of people like that, who are a lot of bark, but no bite. Oh, sorry, there’s a car going by right now.
Steve Fouts 11:24
It’s okay. It happens.
Lindsey Wander 11:26
It happens. I think that was strategic. There’s power in both of them. I think that’s the point they’re making. You’re better at making a difference by really playing with the power of the action, the hand, the doing something.
Dan Fouts 11:45
Yeah. It’s funny that you pointed that out. I missed that. The thunder is the trailer to the lightning. Yeah, it’s true. In that sense. It’s prioritizing. Lightning is more important. Wow. Thank you, Lindsay. I completely missed that one. It’s great.
Lindsey Wander 12:06
Well, I mean, I think even the mouth and the hand was strategic, because often when we think about doing something, or even helping people, we visualize a hand. I think that all of it was very well thought out and well arranged, which is why I really liked it. I don’t think that it’s saying one part is not valuable. I think it’s saying all of it is valuable, but it’s better to also carry it all the way through.
Steve Fouts 12:43
Lindsay, what would you say? Do you have an illustration from your life? I could guess one right now, since you’re an entrepreneur. When you think about experiences that you have had, what comes to mind when you think of this quote? It can be anything. When did you put this into action, if you have in your life? Just anything you’d like to share.
Lindsey Wander 13:15
I’m definitely a doer. That’s another reason why this is really almost a motto of mine. Starting the business was one. I could have very well just complained about my job the rest of my life, but I decided I’m not happy and I’m going to do something about it so I can be happy in my job. One of the good examples that was timed well, with the noise we just heard, was that I found myself in a position where I was working so much because I had started this nonprofit, plus, my tutoring business got really busy as a result of the pandemic. I was inside the house, and wasn’t really experiencing life. It really was draining me. My life was all work, no play. So, I decided, let’s sell everything and travel. For the past year and a half, I’ve been a digital nomad. I’m currently in San Miguel de Allende, which is in Mexico. I’m sitting on my rooftop patio enjoying the beautiful weather wearing shorts. This is my office where I work every day. Even though I still had a 12-13 hour day today, it’s a lot different when I’m able to see different places in the world and I’m allowed to be outside. I could have just complained and been miserable, or been all work and really kind of lost my essence of who I am. This is my way of taking action and doing something about it while still being able to take action in my job. Nothing got paused in that regard. I know I talked about it for a little while, and then I just did it. Everyone, not everyone, but half of the people in my life thought I was a little crazy, but they also were like, that’s Lindsey, she says she’s going to do it, then she’s going to do it. So I definitely live by this motto.
Steve Fouts 14:59
Nice. That’s wonderful. Wow, what a change. Didn’t know you were in Mexico.
Lindsey Wander 15:09
Yeah, I’ve been here since January. I spent about five months here last year. I’ve kind of just been tuting around. I want to also learn Spanish again. That’s another major reason. It’s just easier for me to pick it up quicker when I’m in the environment.
Steve Fouts 15:24
Of course, yeah. Dan, what were you going to say?
Dan Fouts 15:28
No, I was just going to connect this to learning. Well, I mean, we could connect it to Teach Different and what we’ve had to go through to build this. If you think of starting out in the teaching profession, and the tendency you have to talk about what you want to do, or talk with other people about what you want to do, and in the theoretical, take risks. A lot of times, you can think yourself into inaction and not do things. This is what I like about this quote. It’s exactly how I learn. I have to do things to figure out what their value is. I learn from the inside out by making mistakes. This really speaks to me in that sense. Some people talk a lot, but they never end up executing. Maybe this is a little bit of a tangent, but not really, I don’t think. Many people in their hope to get something perfect end up not acting, and instead perseverate on the exact perfect way to do something. They talk a good game, but they never end up following through, because they’re afraid. There’s a fear there. I think people try to assuage their fears by overthinking and talking. What they don’t understand is just by doing it, you’re going to see a new insight. So anyway, this speaks to me.
Lindsey Wander 17:21
I definitely think a lot of teachers listening to this will agree that in the education field, we often do a lot of talking about theories and the new way of teaching. But, when you break it down at its core, even the actions that are taken, are often not hitting their target, because there was just so much talking around it. An example I can give is one of the things that’s very buzzworthy right now is culturally responsive and trauma informed teaching. When I started the nonprofit, I wanted to make sure that my tutors weren’t unintentionally re-traumatizing the students with whom they were working, so I looked for a way to teach them culturally responsive and trauma informed teaching. All I found was talk. Talk about what it is. Talk about why it should be there. How do you do it? That’s what I wanted to know, and I couldn’t find it, so I had to develop the course myself. My whole course for the tutors is okay, we agree that this is important. Let’s stop talking about that. How do you do this in your daily interactions with your students? That’s what we need to know and that’s the steps to take there. I know that they appreciate that, because a lot of them are professional educators, and they’ve never been trained in this way where it’s more direct. This is what you do. And I just wish more approaches to education were that way, where we really better equip our teachers with the actual tools to do something, not just talk about why we should do it.
Steve Fouts 18:58
Dan Fouts 19:00 – Counterclaim
Can we float to the counterclaim? Are we ready? The counterclaim I’m looking at is that sometimes you act too quickly and it ends up being a colossal waste of time. Okay. Sometimes talking about something, hashing out an idea with someone beforehand and gaining multiple verbal perspectives of something before you act, is the absolute best thing you can do. Launching into the action might actually cause more chaos than it’s worth. I don’t have a good example yet, but I promise to try to think of one.
Steve Fouts 19:56
Lindsay, what’s your take on that?
Lindsey Wander 19:58
Well, you kind of said earlier that the thunder was the precursor to the lightning. I don’t feel like this quote is saying, don’t talk about it. I still think it’s encouraging you to talk about it, but don’t only talk about it. I agree with you there have been some cases where I’ve maybe made a rash decision and should have investigated a little bit more. I hear you. I think the point is, don’t stagnate at the talking, or like you said before, don’t let it scare you out of taking action. Unless, of course, you come to a conclusion that it’s not worth taking that action. But, don’t let it scare you out of it. Don’t avoid the action for the sake of fear. For me, the counterclaim would be, when can you not take action? Are there situations where all you have is your voice and you’re not in a position to take action. I often hear this with my students, who are minors, that they are often in situations with adults where they don’t feel like they can speak up, because it might be disrespectful, or they just go with what the adult says, even though they might not agree. I know we encourage our students to have a voice and to use it respectfully, to be an active agent of change in their life and stand up for others. To be a leader. But, it’s often hard for children to do that. There might also be situations, especially working with underserved communities, where they may not be in a position where they can take the action because they don’t have that power. Society has taken it away from them. All they have are their words to speak up which often invokes action from the people who can take action. That’s how I looked at the counterclaim. What happens if all you can do is talk? There are cases like that.
Steve Fouts 22:03
Yeah. That’s good. That’s good. When all you have are your words.
Dan Fouts 22:12
I have to give a book plug for you, Lindsey. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this book, “Seen and Not Heard,” by Dr. Jana Mohr Lone. I work with her and the Philosophy Learning and Teaching organization, an international organization promoting philosophy in K 12. The premise of her book is that we don’t listen to kids. We don’t think they have a voice. We patronize them, and treat them like they don’t have the perspective that they deserve. I think you would absolutely love this book.
Lindsey Wander 22:47
Dan Fouts 22:49
“Seen and Not Heard.”
Lindsey Wander 22:50
I’ll check it out. That’s a big thing. I really encourage my tutors to understand that their students are coming to them with a wealth of knowledge and experience, and to tap into that before they just go into teacher mode. I think the problem is that our school system is very adult led instead of student centered. I love giving my students the opportunity to really have that voice and take that action, because I’ve learned a lot from them, and I tell them that. It’s so encouraging for the future of our society when we actually let them flourish. I hear their ideas and their thoughts, and I’m like, wow, you’re a pretty incredible kid. When I’m with my nieces and nephews and we read books, at the end, I’ll ask them, what’s the moral of the story and listen to their analysis of what they thought the story was about. These are three, four or five year olds! It is so cool. There are ways to do it with all ages. You don’t have to wait until their high school or college age to do that. Giving them that voice is essential.
Steve Fouts 23:55
Absolutely. My take on this, from the counterclaim perspective… Lindsey, I got most, almost all, of my teaching career from the west side of Chicago, in underserved high schools. Studying to become a teacher in college and then being in a situation like that, very diverse and very challenging in a lot of different ways… I would say this is the power dynamic that’s coming back to me when I read the quote. When I started teaching, I was seen as kind of a pushover. I wasn’t verbal. I didn’t say things to them in a confrontational way, which may have been appropriate to let them know that they couldn’t talk to me that way, especially in front of the class. But, it wasn’t my nature to be verbal, and to respond in a harsh way. Let’s just say, many teachers did, but that’s not Steve. Now, lightning in the hand, I obviously wasn’t going to physically do anything confrontational with them, that goes without saying. I also wouldn’t discipline them, like call a security guard and have them come in and deal with my problems. I would end up trying to deal with it all on my own. What I learned was that some very carefully, strategically placed words, thunder in the mouth, was amazingly successful. In certain situations, it saved me from having to do so many other things.
Dan Fouts 26:31
It saved you from having to do.
Steve Fouts 26:36
Right. (ha ha)
Lindsey Wander 26:38
Then, for them to counter back. Some students are just going to come right back at you, and you’re not going to get anywhere.
Steve Fouts 26:44
Lindsay, in fact, let’s just say most, and that’s why I didn’t do it. Often you just raise the decibel level. You give license to go higher. But, there is an art to it, and I can’t really describe it. I’ve never defined it. If I went back into the classroom now, I’m sure I’d make nine mistakes for every time I got it right. There were some times when, especially when the kids would come up to me later, they would say I liked the way that you treated… I like the way you put your personality out there, you took control. I’m just thinking that I was rude by raising my voice, but they said no, that showed that you care.
Dan Fouts 27:35
Yeah. I’ve had the same situation, Steve, in a different environment. Lindsay, I teach at a very diverse suburban high school, outside Chicago, and it is true, strategically placed thunderous language, as long as you don’t use it a lot, can have an incredible impact. But, you have to have built that respect with the students beforehand, for those words to have the influence.
Lindsey Wander 28:10
You can even take it a little step further. I used to teach in South Central Los Angeles, and then I taught in Southside Chicago too, so I’m with you.
Steve Fouts 28:20
Lindsey Wander 28:20
I feel like using my words ahead of time to clearly explain what I expect, what their responsibilities are, and to really let them know that I’m holding them to very high standards, that I will not accept this certain behavior, prevents a need for lightning. Letting them know very clearly what the expectations and consequences are through words. Then, whenever something starts rising up, just verbally reminding them to make the right choice. If they don’t make the right choice, even verbally without raising my voice, I never yelled. I yelled once when a fight was breaking out in my room, and I think they were so freaked out that I yelled that they stopped fighting.
Steve Fouts 29:04
There you go.
Lindsey Wander 29:04
So you can yell.
Steve Fouts 29:05
That’s an example.
Lindsey Wander 29:07
There you go.
Dan Fouts 29:09
Lindsey bringing the thunder.
Lindsey Wander 29:11
I would let them know. If I had a substitute teacher, and they left a bad report, I would come back and say, very calmly, that I’m disappointed. I was so proud to show you guys off to this teacher and you disappointed me. We would discuss what we could do differently so this didn’t happen again. What are the consequences that are fair at this time? There are cases where talking is better than acting out, especially with kids. They’re just going to give it back to you. But, if you talk to them in a really respectful way, where it’s a discussion, you’re going to get that back.
Steve Fouts 29:50
Yes. Absolutely. Well, that’s thunder. I guess that word makes me think that it’s much more. When I hear the word thunder, I don’t picture someone slowly and methodically talking in respectful language about the mistakes that had been made.
Lindsey Wander 30:15
But, it’s about the power.
Dan Fouts 30:17
Steve Fouts 30:17
There you go.
Dan Fouts 30:18
It is thunder.
Steve Fouts 30:19 – Essential Question
That is powerful when you talk like that, especially when you have the credibility, and they’re listening to you. When do you know when you should be using a strong voice? What situations are the best for a very strong voice? Don’t think action, per se, just think voice. I say strong, that’s just me and my bias toward the power thing. Anyway, that was my quick thought for an essential question.
Lindsey Wander 31:03
If I was going to answer that I would save it for emergencies. When I have my nieces and nephews, I don’t yell unless they’re running in the street. With my students, I only raise my voice if there’s a fight breaking out, or if it’s an emergency. Otherwise, there’ll be times when the kids are acting out in my room, and I just get quiet and stand there. They would all go shhh, shhh. They would see me standing there and they would get quiet. I don’t need to yell. I would say, okay, now that you’re quiet, let me go ahead. That requires a little trust, right? They have to know you care. I feel like we might overuse yelling, and then it loses its power.
Dan Fouts 31:46
Oh, yeah. Here’s another thought. How do we know when actions speak louder than words? How do we judge that? We don’t have to answer it, Lindsay. We just let them marinate. These are the questions that I love to leave with kids after these conversations, and have them write a reflection. But, I didn’t have that question 28 minutes ago.
Lindsey Wander 32:24
I would maybe even extend that. What are your options if you can’t take action for some good reason? What else can you do to still have an action, if you personally can’t do it?
Dan Fouts 32:44
That’s great. Just so that they’re more aware of what they have the influence and power to do.
Lindsey Wander 32:53
Yeah, and they have a lot of influence and a lot of power, and I want them to know that.
Dan Fouts 33:01
Well, this is great. I really like how the conversation went back and forth between the claim and the counterclaim. It sounds like we ended with some really provocative questions. I thought our personal experiences brought the quote to light, in a good way. Just imagine what the students’ experiences are on this front. They’re going to have a lot of things that they can bring to this discussion.
Dan Fouts 33:37
We’re kind of at the end here, Lindsay. This went really, really well. I really appreciated your perspectives, and the great work you do. You’re a very busy person, and you’re in Mexico right now, doing your best, and it’s really cool. We really appreciate you coming on the Teach Different podcast and sharing your ideas with us.
Lindsey Wander 34:03
Thank you, and I am glad I did it. I have a better understanding of the approach that you guys take with your program, and I think it’s really great to foster a lot of those soft skills that I know we work on. It’s something I might consider introducing to some of my tutors, these open ended discussions with their students. Not only does it get students to think critically and put them in a leadership position of sharing and speaking up, but it really gets them reflecting on their own lives and potentially ways to improve. I like that. I like that they’re constantly learning and growing and improving. I think this is a really great way to do it versus just a typical analysis of this quote kind of thing.
Steve Fouts 34:54
And the quotes are fun, Lindsey. The best part about the quotes is that they’re so different. It’s the same kind of method, claim, counterclaim, and essential question, but the quote is different. There’s never a dull moment.
Lindsey Wander 35:11
That’s good, because I think they get really good at their active listening too, because they’re intrigued by what other people are saying. There are so many skills that are learned from doing that. A lot of active listening is hearing what people say and then coming up with something to add to it or to counter it. So, it’s all good stuff.
Dan Fouts 35:32
Yeah, holding those competing ideas is so important, and then coming up with your own perspective and defending it with reasoning.
Lindsey Wander 35:41
Yeah, and that there are multiple ways to see something. There’s not always just one way.
Dan Fouts 35:45
There you go. Well, again, thanks so much, Lindsey. We wish you the best with all of your organizations and all the good work that you’re doing.
Lindsey Wander 35:56
Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.
Dan Fouts 35:59
Thanks, everybody. We hope you’re walking away feeling energized by some great ideas, and enjoying the chance to step back and have a conversation about things that really matter using the Teach Different conversation method. Continue your journey with us at teachdifferent.com and join our community of educators who are mastering the art and science of conversations, or explore our coaching programs offered as part of our proud partnership with the Conversation Project at convoproject.org. Let’s keep the conversations going. Together. Take care.