We Don’t Know — What We Think We Know

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In scouting, we spend an inordinate time dealing with the unknown:

  • Will it rain?
  • Are the boys ready for the backpacking trip?
  • Is the Senior Patrol Leader-elect ready for his job?
  • Am I ready to be the Cubmaster, when everyone else tells me I would be great?

One of the best reasons that scouting works is that it teaches scouts (and adults) humility in the face of the natural elements and adversity in scout meetings. Why is humility important?

Humility is the personal characteristic that a psychologically balanced person has. Humility is not self-deprecation nor self-doubt. Humility is the desire to self-critique that leads to a more thorough and thoughtful response.

To get a sense about how important a dose of humility is, consider the impact of a lack of humility in introducing problems. This is the Dunning Kruger Effect.

So from this video we see that lacking humility to question preparation and understanding leads to hubris and Greek tragedies (and miserable camping trips).

Estimation error is a huge problem in self-assessment. A scout filled with hubris and self-confidence with not a trace of humility estimates that all of his plans are perfect. “I know it won’t rain, so we don’t need the dining flies.”

The estimation error of a humble scout is smaller. “I don’t think it will rain, but, if I am wrong, we will pack dining flies. Maybe we will just take two rather than three.”

One of the best lessons a scoutmaster or cubmaster can teach a scout is how his decision fits in larger patterns of human nature and behavior. Since scouting is learning through experience, it is important to allow safe failures. But it is even better to reflect on how those failures occurred and how to “fail more successfully” next time. To me a more successful failure is one that avoids the errors made last time. “I am not error free, but I work to only make an error once. The next time, I will inadvertently find a new error, hopefully of a smaller magnitude.”

Does your troop or pack take the time to reflect on its successes and failures before going to bed or departing a meeting, when the reflections and lessons are more profound? A scoutmaster or cubmaster suggesting the power of humility during these timely reflections is one of the greatest character building lessons we can offer, that are hard to duplicate anywhere else.

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