My apologies for so long between posts. Everything I own in the world is in a moving van between CA and KS. We have made it as far as Western NC visiting family and friends and will be headed back to Birmingham later this week to spend Christmas with my family. It has been a very long trip, but very rewarding.
In particular, we rented a cabin, #6, at Cheaha State Park in Alabama. Every year the weekend before Christmas my old Scout Troop, 96 out of Birmingham, has a reunion. Old scouts like me come in from around the world to celebrate our fraternity and this was no exception. I have been coming to this reunion, every year we were in the area, since the mid- 1980’s.
First, a nod to Alabama Parks and Rec. The cabins have recently been refurbished and apparently the Governor’s wife took it upon herself to do the design and furnishings herself as a service to the State and never before have these cabins been so plush! They have lost some of their rustic charm, but they are much more comfortable and user friendly.
The hallmark of Scouting is leadership development in the outdoors. That is why guys like Powell and Beard and many others first founded Scouting and it is, and should remain, its heart. I saw that my old Troop maintains this to this day. How do you teach leadership, you ask? A typical exchange might go like this:
“Timmy, I know we all just ate lunch out here, and I know orange peels are biodegradable, but this is a high public use area and it just looks tacky. You get some boys together and pick things up and Ill be back to check on you” (Timmy is 11, so he rounds up 3-4 buddies and they pick up orange peels)
Now, when the Scoutmaster, or just another Scout Dad, comes back to check on Timmy and his buddies it goes like this: “Good job, Timmy, Guys. This looks great, over there are a couple of peels behind those bushes, you may not be able to see them, but overall very good job. Y’all take off and Ill take the bag to the dumpster.” In a very high functioning Troop, Timmy will be mortified that he missed ANY peels and no way in hell will he let an adult haul off THEIR bag of trash, they will complete the job themselves, thank you very much! Or, “Timmy, I came over here and you guys are goofing off and there are still peels all over the place. Pick these peels up and then form a line and march from the cabin to the road and pick up everything God didn’t put there, then bring it here to me to go in this bag. I don’t care if you are missing the football game with the older guys, you were given a task, complete it and you can go.” Mr. Scout Dad then watches as they complete the job and he keeps them there until a good job is done. No screaming was necessary, simply a restatement of what was expected and his disapproval should be enough. And, Timmy and his friends learn that they must work first, play second.
It was evident all weekend that this principal was in play. Cleaning up a lunch site is appropriate work for 11 year olds. Older kids were responsible for much more, like organizing the Dirty Santa Christmas party. “Life Scout Billy, you are in charge of the Christmas Party this year. Here is your budget, shanghai who you need to help you and come back the week before the party and let me know what you have planned. If you run into a problem, let me know.” Billy then plans the whole party. Decorations, music, refreshment, MC, Dirty Santa rules, getting folks to help him actually put up the decorations and set out the food. “Billy, you did a great job! Great idea getting Mr. Smith to help you as the MC, he did a great job last year and he loves that stuff. You probably should have gotten a few more cokes, we have a lot of kids here, run grab some out of my truck, I brought a few extra, but this was a very fun evening!”
Some kids, naturally, “get it” better than others. Leadership is both art and science. All of us can learn enough of the science to be better persons than we are now, but there are defiantly those more artistically gifted than others, and they aren’t always the ones you might pick on first sight. One of the older kids in particular impressed me this weekend. When I first saw him he was outside, wearing a muscle shirt and strumming a guitar in 40 degree weather. I pegged him for a kid with an attitude. I was wrong. Over the course of the weekend I saw him make sure that others went ahead of him in line, I watched him quietly correct younger scouts before their mistakes were even noticed, insuring that little things they were responsible for came off well. He put others first, didn’t showboat and generally kept things going well with a quit nudge here or there. It was wonderful to behold! Yeah, he IS cocky as hell, but I was 16 and bulletproof once myself. Life tends to take care of that and most of us survive to become seasoned, dare I say, even wise?
Leadership development isn’t limited to Scouts or the military. But I have found that many of those I talk to on this trip who were neither are simply swimming through life in circles…lost. They lack direction. They lack the ability to risk because they fear failure. Give kids a challenge that is appropriate to their age and let them fail. The very best Christmas parties are not the well planned and executed ones, though that is a warm feeling of its own. The very, very best are those where a younger boy took on a project right at the edge of his abilities and at least one aspect failed spectacularly. Because in MY Troop, what I saw was, not the dads, but the other boys rally around their friend and help him come up with a fix rather than deride him. At that point, the Troop is self-sustaining. The boys have completely absorbed the lessons of selfless service, excellence, responsibility and the REQUIREMENT to pass on those lessons, even to those only a year or two younger than you. We old timers can simply sit back, drink coffee, tell war stories and, every once in a while, walk out and “sense” the feel of the camp, almost effortlessly keep things on an even keel, be present for those one or two moments that always come that need an adults guiding hand, and generally bask in a job well done….let’s keep this going another year.
I miss Scouting. I hope, when I get back from A’stan, there will be time and a place for me at the Troop in Leavenworth.
P.s. Cheaha is where I proposed to my wife over 13 years ago..
Cheaha proposal 1