Patrol System

Anti-Fragile and Scouting (Part 4)

Posted on Updated on

This is the fourth part of a series commenting on what I have been reading in the works of Nassim Taleb, beginning with his book Anti-Fragile, part of the Incerto series.

incerto

In the first article, I outlined his biography and introduced the questions of “What is the opposite of fragile? Are your scouts, scout parents, or scouters fragile? What are your duties as a scout leader in handling this matter?”

In the second article, I defined anti-fragile as strengthing in face of adversity. I suggested that resilience is not the antonym of “fragile.”

In the third article, I discussed using the concept of anti-fragile in planning and programming for troop outings.

This week we will start to look at teaching scouts how to be anti-fragile emotionally in the field.

Taleb talks about one the great Roman philosophers in Chapter 10. Seneca was a stoic which meant he sought to remove emotionality and dependence on worldly goods from his life. At the same time, Seneca was among the wealthiest men in Rome. It seems a contradiction. Taleb interprets Seneca’s worldview as focusing on removing the vagaries of life from his worries. Seneca did not seek to throw wild parties with his wealth. He sought to make himself safe from worries. Even so, Seneca acknowledged that many wealthy people sleep poorly at night for fear of losing their fortunes the next day. Seneca sought a way to obtain a different result.

The stoics’ way, as taught by Seneca, was to be able to face tragic problems and say, “I lost nothing.” Imagine your scout brings his iPhone and loses it on the next campout. Does he stress about it the rest of the weekend? How do his parents react on learning the news? Do they raise the roof with complaints? Do they calm accept the loss of valuable property? Neither is probably the best approach. What will the scout do in anticipation of that coming parental reaction?

Taleb suggests the first step is to move away from post-traumatic harm to post-traumatic growth. Clearly an over-reactive parent will induce post-traumatic harm. So does a complete dismissal of the loss of the iPhone lead to post-traumatic growth? I suggest not.

To have post-traumatic growth, using the Seneca method, the scout has to prevent harm an over-emotional response. Avoiding an emotional meltdown and focusing on concrete steps to handle the situation is key. A scoutmaster or patrol leader asking, where did you last see it? where did you go next? what were you thinking about? These questions are not emotional; they are functional and likely to increase the likelihood of finding the phone. Finding the phone reduces the emotional punch of an angry parent. Failing to find the phone but implementing a systematic response allows action to step in the place of emotionality.

Yet in all of this example, the scout is only barely coping with the problem. He still feels the loss of property. He fears the parental response. He has feelings anticipating the response. By giving a systematic response after the phone loss occurs we have not made him anti-fragile. The next conflict with his parents is just as likely to lead to an emotional break down if we are not there to offer systematic guidance.

Returning to the unemotional parental and scout response to the loss of a phone, we have the different problem that the scout is probably learning to be irresponsible with his and other persons’ property. He is learning to be untrustworthy. He faces no consequence for mishandling his own property. He is likely to be the one to misplace the cook kit from the patrol box.

Seneca suggests, in Taleb’s telling, that the scout in our story go through a series of mental exercises of pretending he has lost the iPhone long before he ever losses it. He think about what the consequences of the loss would be. He think about how he would adapt without the phone. He think about how he would carry out those same tasks without the phone. He think about how he would relate to (fail to relate to) his fellow scouts without his phone. In this exercise, the value of the phone is reduced. He starts to see that life goes on without the iPhone being omnipresent. He learns other ways to deal with life without the iPhone.

Interestingly, these exercises tend to make the risk of loss of the iPhone much less likely. First, some scouts may choose not to bring the iPhone on the outing because they don’t want to take the risk of loss. Similarly, some scouts may not bring it because they like the alternative scenarios better: more card playing time with fellow scouts or more time in the woods. Second, some scouts may still insist on bringing the iPhone but plan for its care much better, because they have learned to anticipate how losses could occur. Third, others may learn the opposite of our intended less that the theoretical absence makes the heart grow fonder. In all of these scenarios, the scout has learned to be more anti-fragile because he has learned that the iPhone being lost has consequences that he does not care for.

Seneca’s lessons from these anticipation-of-loss scenarios during travel was that he generally traveled with only what he would end up with if he was shipwrecked. In scouting language, he took in his backpack only what he needed. Heavier backpacks add new worries for loss, damage, fatigue, distraction, risk of falling, etc. Packing light in anticipation of real risks is a form of anti-fragility. Packing what your willing to part with is another form of stoic anti-fragility.

For a scout trek, a great exercise in anti-fragility is to imagine all the things that could go wrong that day and how you would cope with those problems. The unknown-unknowns (see Don Rumsfeld) are always a risk, but learning how many unknowns or risks are actually foreseeable is a great form of creating an anti-fragile scout.

The first time you discuss foreseeable risks with an 11 year old, you might induce fright and panic. But if you follow this process every morning on every campout, if they then repeat this exercise 3 years later in the Boundary Waters, they will have confidence built from learning how to manage foreseeable risks.

Taleb sums up the point by saying

Seen this way, Stoicism is about the domestication, not necessarily the elimination, of emotions. It is not about turning humans into vegetables. My idea of the modern Stoic sage is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.

Seneca proposes a complete training program to handle life and use emotions properly— thanks to small but effective tricks. One trick, for instance, that a Roman Stoic would use to separate anger from rightful action and avoid committing harm he would regret later would be to wait at least a day before beating up a servant who committed a violation. We moderns might not see this as particularly righteous, but just compare it to the otherwise thoughtful Emperor Hadrian’s act of stabbing a slave in the eye during an episode of uncontrolled anger. When Hadrian’s anger abated, and he felt the grip of remorse, the damage was irreversible.

Seneca also provides us a catalogue of social deeds: invest in good actions. Things can be taken away from us— not good deeds and acts of virtue.*

I love that underlined passages. They just scream Scouting.

Returning to our unemotional scout who has lost the iPhone. In many ways, he will be your biggest problem. He has learned to remove himself emotionally from problems.

Taleb in a latter book in the Incerto series discusses how psychology is coming to understand that emotions are a necessary part of decision making. An unemotional scout will be one that just doesn’t care what the outcome is, so he will not spend much time thinking through the problem. Emotions are the “lubricants of reason.”

Descartes’ Error presents a very simple thesis: You perform a surgical ablation on a piece of someone’s brain (say, to remove a tumor and tissue around it) with the sole resulting effect of an inability to register emotions, nothing else (the IQ and every other faculty remain the same). What you have done is a controlled experiment to separate someone’s intelligence from his emotions. Now you have a purely rational human being unencumbered with feelings and emotions. Let’s watch: Damasio reported that the purely unemotional man was incapable of making the simplest decision. He could not get out of bed in the morning, and frittered away his days fruitlessly weighing decisions. Shock! This flies in the face of everything one would have expected: One cannot make a decision without emotion. Now, mathematics gives the same answer: If one were to perform an optimizing operation across a large collection of variables, even with a brain as large as ours, it would take a very long time to decide on the simplest of tasks. So we need a shortcut; emotions are there to prevent us from temporizing. Does it remind you of Herbert Simon’s idea? It seems that the emotions are the ones doing the job. Psychologists call them “lubricants of reason.”**

 

So the strange thing is that we find ourselves having to calm the emotional scout to move toward reason and logical behavior; we need to spark an emotional response to move him toward reason and logical behavior, too.

In both cases, we are teaching the scout to confront the situation and plan for foreseeable but yet unknown risks.

Next Saturday will continue to look at applications of Incerto and Anti-Fragile in particular to the scouting world.

_______________

* Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. Incerto 4-Book Bundle: Antifragile (Kindle Locations 2855-2863). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

** IbidFooled by Randomness. Kindle Locations 21806-21815.

Advertisements

Anti-Fragile and Scouting (Part 3)

Posted on Updated on

This is the third part of a series commenting on what I have been reading in the works of Nassim Taleb, beginning with his book Anti-Fragile, part of the Incerto series.

incerto

In the first article, I outlined his biography and introduced the questions of “What is the opposite of fragile? Are your scouts, scout parents, or scouters fragile? What are your duties as a scout leader in handling this matter?”

In the second article, I defined anti-fragile as strengthing in face of adversity. I suggested that resilience is not the antonym of “fragile.”

Up to this point, I have focused on making the scouts anti-fragile, stronger for having faced adversity. Let’s look at the concept of anti-fragile as a criterion for assessing the quality of your unit’s planning and programming.

Taleb questions the engineering world’s emphasis on efficiency. Let’s assume the definition of efficiency is doing just enough to complete the task with just enough resources and time. No wasted motion, effort, time, or resources. What is the effect in today’s world of being ever more efficient?

When planning goes well, the planner looks like a genius. No waste. No muss. No fuss. The trailer is packed so efficiently just the perfect amount of food is loaded. There is no excess weight to slow the trailer down. Every scout finds just the equipment he needs to do his tasks. It’s perfect.

But what happens if some of the planning fails? What if there was no weather report of a major rainstorm? To have been truly efficient, the planner took only what was in the plan. Since no weather report predicted a rainstorm, the efficient planner takes no shelters or tarps to keep the weather out when cooking. People get cold and wet and maybe are a little hungry.

Read the rest of this entry »

Anti-Fragile and Scouting (Part 2)

Posted on Updated on

This is the second part of a series commenting on what I have been reading in the works of Nassim Taleb, beginning with his book Anti-Fragile, part of the Incerto series.

incerto

In the last article, I outlined his biography and introduced the questions of “What is the opposite of fragile? Are your scouts, scout parents, or scouters fragile? What are your duties as a scout leader in handling this matter?

Let’s return to the question of “what is the opposite of fragile?”

Is it resilience? I have written here before about the value of building resilience through the scouting program. The research on building resilience in children is important for life-long physical and emotional health.

A quote from the previous article makes the point.

Amid all the hustle there are some worries parents can let go of, says clinical psychologist David J. Palmiter Jr., PhD, and author of Working Parents, Thriving Families: 10 Strategies That Make a Difference. Forget the concept of work-life balance, he says. It doesn’t exist. And the worries that you’re giving your kids the short shrift because both of you work? There’s no evidence to support that either, he says. In fact, there are many things that working parents worry about that aren’t really a big deal. But cultivating resilience is something that shouldn’t be overlooked, he says.

How important is resilience? It could have long-term health implications. A study published in the February 1, 2016, issue of Heart found that young men with low stress resilience scores were 40% more likely to develop high blood pressure later in life.

So how can you teach your children to bounce back—especially when you’ve got limited time?

I suggested that scouting provides a means of answer Dr. Palmiter’s question, “[H]ow can you teach your children to bounce back[?]” I made the point that you can’t teach resilience. You give it a chance to develop in presence of stressors and good role modelling. The scout learns how to behave amidst adversity.

Read the rest of this entry »

Anti-Fragile and Scouting (Part 1)

Posted on Updated on

As I have mentioned before, I have been reading the works of Nassim Taleb, beginning

incertowith his book Anti-Fragile, part of the Incerto series.

Since I plan on writing a series of commentaries on this author’s work, let me begin by giving a quick version of his biography.

Taleb is a polyglot (i.e., French, Arabic, English, etc.) and graduate of Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He was born and raised in a small francophone village in Lebanon to a well-connected Greek Orthodox family. Through most of his later childhood, he was surrounded by the Lebanese Civil War. After coming to America he has been a floor trader in the commodities exchange and worked on derivatives trading. He eventually received his doctorate and served as a distinguished professor at NYU’s School of Engineering and Dean’s Professor at University Massachusetts at Amhearst.

He is deep. He is thorough. He is just damn funny.

Read the rest of this entry »

Perception and Adaptation

Posted on Updated on

In some of my reading on other subjects, I ran across some scientific research from the mid-1800’s that I think is fascinating in its potential application to scouting. I am going to go down some complicated paths in this series of articles, so allow me to set the context first.

The View from the Eagle Board

For those of you who have sat on an Eagle Board of Review more than once, you likely can confirm that the following scenario is common.

A 17-year old in full dress scout uniform walks in the door. He is often clean shaven (although beards are increasingly common). He walks erect even if slightly nervous about what he is walking into. He firmly shakes hands with each member of the Board of Review. He answers questions about his Eagle project in great detail. He has pride in his accomplishments. He looks the part of an Eagle Scout already.

As he sits through the Board, the Board members ask the Eagle candidate to reflect on his beginnings in scouting and his growth. The candidate describes his first campout in the rain. He reflects on his anguish and discomfort. He laughs about how those deprivations are nothing compared to the later discomforts of camping in the snow of winter amidst the howling winds. He reflects on what he learned about overcoming obstacles, adapting, and accepting his circumstances.

He has learned that slight discomforts at home are nothing compared to facing the elements and the discomforts Mother Nature offers.

In my role as District Commissioner, the BSA charges me with the primary mission of encouraging Best Practices in our units. In other words, I am responsible for being able to explain to leaders why BSA policies are in the best interest of the unit, its leaders, and its scouts. That does not mean that I agree with each and every policy, but it does mean that I should be able to articulate the rationale in the light most favorable to the BSA’s intent.

For example, I should be able to articulate why units that camp the most are the more successful; why units that allow the boys to experiment with the patrol method with guidance and boundaries from the scoutmaster corps are more successful than units where adult leaders run the program; or why units with Senior Patrol Leaders who work the Patrol Leader Council are more successful than units where Senior Patrol Leaders acts as the patrol-leader-of-all. Read the rest of this entry »

Patrol Log Books vs Oral Reports at PLC

Posted on

Have you as a Scoutmaster ever asked your PLC for reports from the patrol leaders only to be met with silence or hesitant thoughts? If the patrol leaders had effective meetings with their patrols, why do they have nothing to share?

I would suggest part of the problem is that scouts believe that ideas at PLC’s need to be delivered in a manner similar to school. They might believe that they should remain silent unless they have a perfect answer. If they are asked to brainstorm, they may believe that they need to start from scratch. They may not have had the concept of serving as a representative from the patrol to the PLC clearly enough or frequently enough repeated to have it fresh in mind at key times.

All of these problems are a philosophical problem. These all need teaching to overcome. An active Scoutmaster sitting in a PLC should encourage his Senior Patrol Leader to use this silence as an opportunity to educate on the philosophy of the PLC. Something like a 30-second reminder would be ideal.

But these patrol leaders often don’t have a philosophical misunderstanding. They just took terrible notes or more typically no notes on the topic at hand. The topic may have been thoroughly debated by the patrol. The patrol leader may struggle to put the range of debate succinctly before the PLC.

Clarke Green of ScoutmasterCG.com has a solution to this problem. He recommends that a Patrol Log Book be maintained. The log book is more than the Patrol Scribe’s Minutes Book. It is a chance for scouts to write their own “roses, thorns, or bud.” The Log Book is passed around the patrol meeting. Each scout is encouraged to offer his own rose, thorn, or bud. He then writes it down in his own words in a short sentence or phrase. Now the Patrol Leader has a series of notes from his patrol to carry into the PLC.

Look at Clarke’s website for a sample PDF to download.

Personally, I prefer the new Scout Leader Guidebook’s vocabulary of “Stop, Start, Continue.” Both methods encourage scouts to look at good, bad, and new ideas. Stop, Start, Continue puts an emphasis on actions and moves away from debates about current status of persons, places, or events.

Whatever your preferred vocabulary, encouraging each scout to speak his voice in the patrol meeting and having a sense that his voice is being accurately represented to the PLC is a powerful method of teaching citizenship and active participation.

 

Advice for SPLs

Posted on

Many scoutmasters do not enjoy the start of a new Senior Patrol Leader’s term of office. The new youth leader has a lot to learn. The scoutmaster has to spend time teaching him the ropes, which may feel annoying, since the last SPL had gotten it all figured out. He had not required so much of the scoutmaster’s time as the new guy does.

Sometimes it is is useful to find an ally in getting the new SPL.

Clarke Greene recently posted a podcast about advice to a new SPL.

Take a look at the support materials and additional resources he points out.

What is a “Boy-Led Troop”?

Posted on Updated on

A phrase I hear often is apparently heard many times by other scouters, too.

Clarke Green writes, “Many Scouters claim, ‘We have a boy-led troop’ but what does that really mean? ‘Boy-led’ is not what adults do, it’s what they don’t do.”

He goes on to write,

Defining what we should not do is nowhere near as useful as sharing what weshould do,  but before I do let’s address one common misconception;

Boy-led is not boy-defined.

Every once in a while I’ll hear something like; “We don’t have patrols because the Scouts decided they didn’t want them, we are boy-led after all.”

Imagine a basketball game where the players were carrying the ball rather than dribbling. You ask a coach why and they tell you; “the players all decided they’s rather play this way.” Can you still call that game “basketball”?

Just like any other game Scouting has limitations and definitions. We all play the game within those definitions and limitations, the players don’t re-invent the game.

Adults should help Scouts maintain focus on fulfilling the promises of Scouting and understand the limitations and definitions of the game we are playing.

One of the commenters, Richard Andersen, adds, “I personally don’t like the term ‘boy-led,’ I prefer scout-led.”

Mr. Andersen really helps to clarify Clarke’s point extremely well. If the troop is “boy-led,” there is not inherently a strong sense of limitation of what the “boys” can do in defining the troop. On the other hand, describing the troop as “scout-led” always requires that the scouts revisit the idea of what it means to be a “scout.” Using the word “scout,” emphasizes the importance of working the system of scouting. It clarifies the difference between a scout’s choice following the Scout and what their friends would do outside without the Scout Law guiding their choices.

As modern-day scouters, we often see scouting as another extracurricular activity that a boy does.

When Baden-Powell opened the first scout encampment at Brown Sea Isle, the first thing he did was to put the boys “on their honor” to live within the scout system. For Baden-Powell this oath of honor set scouts apart from other boys.

Read the rest of this entry »

Part-time Patrol Method

Posted on Updated on

Bobwhite Blather blog has a great article about scout troops that believe they are running a successful patrol method.

Frank questions whether this is truly an example of running a successful patrol method.

This is especially a waste of great learning opportunities when there are so many resources for improving the patrol method. Clarke Green has an entire section of his website dedicated to this one question and its philosophical reasons. He even has written a book about the process of implementing the patrol system from the scoutmaster’s perspective.

The recent Eagle Scout turned blogger Enoch Heise has a wonderful post on the real basics and purpose of the patrol. Not too many months ago (from an adult’s perspective), Enoch was an SPL. Now as newly minted adult scouter he uses his practical lessons to teach other adults.

There are even books on the subject. Here is one from the British Scout Association in 1943. Here is one of more recent vintage, that I can only find in paperback. I have read it. It has great stuff.

Read more about the patrol method. Become a believer.

Thanksgiving Lessons for Scouting

Posted on Updated on

As Thanksgiving arrives this year, we begin considering more time with extended family and friends. Scouting tends to be put on the backshelf. Even so, Thanksgiving is a great time to think about the philosophy and lessons of scouting. (While this article is focused on boy scout troops, the same lessons of unit cohesion apply to Cub Scout Dens and Venturing Crews, too.)

The history of Thanksgiving is not often as it is represented in the media. To truly learn the lessons of Thanksgiving, we need to return to the the true story of Thanksgiving.

When the Plymouth colonists arrived and were moored alongside shore, they entered into the famed Mayflower Compact, effectively the first constitution written in North America. The Romans had previously had their Twelve Tables, the Swiss their agreement of confederation, and the Jamestown colony their royal charter. All of these were written agreement of government organization, but were all written in Europe. The Compact did not emphasize powers and duties like the US Constitution. It emphasized that all the colonists agreed to be subject to a common government as it was constituted from “time to time.” (That phrase is lawyer-speak for changes that occur every once in a while.) So they agreed to stick to the colony as the rules changed.

This agreeing to be part of the group and be subject to its changing rules is the first similarity between the Compact and a boy scout troop. While the rules for troop organization and management are far more detailed in the Senior Patrol Leader’s Handbook, the new Troop Leaders’ Guide Book (which replaced the Scoutmaster’s Handbook this year), and the Scout Handbook than the Mayflower Compact, neither these scouting handbooks nor the Compact define the daily rules of performance. Neither tells who cooks food, cleans, or organizes the day’s activities. Those are left for future decisions. Consequently, both systems leave lots of room for future lessons to be built into the future activities and organization of the band of people participating.

Read the rest of this entry »