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Anti-Fragile and Scouting (Part 4)

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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.

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Are we overprotective of kids?

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There is a great article at https://reason.com/archives/2017/10/26/the-fragile-generation.

This author uses “resilience” as the opposite of “fragile.” I world read in “anti-fragile” instead. Otherwise this is a great article.

If you can articulate these ideas well, yo become very persuasive about why Scouting is a superior extracurricular activity over youth sports as currently run.

Unique opportunity for Indiana residents

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Scouting is about citizenship. It is about citizenship in the Community, Nation, and World.

One of the requirements for citizenship in the world includes trying to speak to people from other countries. This is often hard for people in America because, especially in Indiana, we live so far from any borders. With one in five people now an immigrant to our land, it is becoming easier than ever before.

Even so, one of the best skills that a good scout can develop is the ability to communicate in more than one language. For residents of Indiana, we have a unique opportunity for incoming juniors, seniors, and recent graduates from high school. (The main target audience is incoming seniors). It is the Indiana University honors program in foreign languages.

My son and I are both alumni of the program. I studied in France and he studied in Spain. District Chair John Wiebke’s son also participated in Chile at the same time my son was in Spain. As a result we are highly conversant in our second languages.

They are preparing to close out their application season for the Summer 2018 trips. They travel to France, Spain, Germany, Canada, Mexico, Chile, China, and Japan. The students are required to speak exclusively in the host language for six weeks. This is a wonderful opportunity for a complete immersion experience.

Scouts make great candidates for this program because they must undergo an in person interview and demonstrate that they would be good ambassadors for America to the host country. Often this program is dominated by girls. There always eager to get good male applicants.

Well the program is expensive, there are ways to find financial help. Even if you doubt that financial ability will be possible, I still encourage students to apply. Being accepted into the program is an honor in and of itself. It helps raise the applicant’s self assuredness because they are capable of qualifying for such a respectable program.

If your child or a scout in your troop or crew is interested at all in international issues, I would commend this program to your attention.

Chief Scout Executive on co-ed choice

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Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh, Patrick Sterrett’s new boss, made these remarks the day after the vote to go co-ed. Surbaugh is a good speaker and worth a listen.

It is too bad these types of posts did not precede the vote.

https://livestream.com/bsa/nationalcouncil/videos/164161163

Anti-Fragile and Scouting (Part 3)

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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.

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BSA rolls out 100% co-ed

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You may have heard, but all programs will be co-ed by January 1, 2019. Cub Scouts start, as I read it, June 1, 2018.

Here is the announcement from CAC Council Commissioner Ron Penczek:

Team,

I wanted to take a moment to forward on to you official communications from our National Council regarding girls in Cub and Boy Scouting.  While it is too late for my girls to stand beside their brother in earning Eagle Scout, I am very excited to bring our program of citizenship, leadership and fitness to girls around the country, I hope you are as excited as me.  I know for some Scouters, this change will be concerning and their concerns are not without merit, but as a Commissioner Corps, I am sure we can help deliver a positive message.  We can be the agent of change that helps everyone to see the benefits of such a change and help implement such change in a positive way.

Please cascade this to your District and Unit Commissioners and begin talking with your units about this change.

I look forward to talking with you next week.

Kind regards,

Ron

BSA Expands Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts Programs to Welcome Girls

The BSA’s board of directors has unanimously approved welcoming girls into our Cub Scouts program and delivering a Scouting program for older girls that will enable them to advance and earn the highest rank of Eagle Scout.

The historic decision comes after years of receiving requests from families and girls. The BSA evaluated the results of numerous research efforts, gaining input from current members and leaders — as well as parents and girls who have never been involved in Scouting — to understand how to offer families an important additional choice in meeting the character development needs of all their children.

Linked below (or attached) are a few resources to help you learn more about today’s decision, as well as respond to any inquiries you may receive. As always, please direct all media queries to pr@scouting.org:

Official BSA news release

Family Scouting page on scoutingnewsroom.org

Family Scouting FAQ

Boys success in emotion management

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Is this old article from the New York Times a study in how many things can one writer get wrong in one article? Or is it a study in modern psychology?

As most of my readers know by now, I don’t look at the world through pop psychology or the buzzwords of the day from the media.

So I will start with the principle that we need to digest this type of article with care and precision.

This article presents many conflicting issues with the Journalism 101 principle that all serious analyses need to have a personal story to make the reading tolerable. (They would say “interesting,” but I find so little journalism interesting. To me, journalism is often a study in formulaic writing. But I digress.) So, the main point of what happens to boys in their emotional development gets interrupted by a boy getting an injection, a vignette from a College Honors class, a lecture by a professor with a wayward frat-boy interlocutor, an interview with a researcher, and class offerings now available in Men’s Studies. Let’s put all those wandering digressions aside.

The article tries to make the point that boys to age 5 are more emotive than same-aged girls. These boys are more socially oriented than same-aged girls. The boys develop deep emotional bonds easily and regularly.

The article claims that by puberty we socialize this emotive personality out of them. This claim of socializing out emotiveness has utterly no academic support in the article. It is merely asserted as gospel truth. I question the validity of the claim. As I am growing persuaded that Karl Popper’s theory of science is true (i.e., science exists in only two places (1) hypotheses already proven false, like the 4 humors approach to medicine, and (2) hypotheses stated in a manner that can be found to be false through experimentation or observation), mere assertions don’t persuade me much.

Despite my doubts, the rest of the article is built on how to resolve this asserted problem that we are socializing out boys’ ability to handle emotions.

Hannah Arendt, a 20th century philosopher of whom I have only recently learned, suggested that violence in society rises when bureaucracy grows, due to fewer means of being able to successfully petition for relief from problems. Violence is seen as the only outlet.

If Arendt is correct, a reasonable corrollary is that humans funneled into unfulfilling avenues of life foster behavior that rebels against the funneling.

So, let’s imagine a boy in middle school on the morning of father visits. He is sitting in class listening to a female teacher talk about the Diary of Anne Frank. The teacher asks about the relationships and feelings of the different persons in the story. The boy tunes out. All the boys around him tune out. The fathers all reach for their cell phones (I resisted only by whispering to the father next to me to share in my observation). The girls gleefully raised their hands and participated. The teacher had to pull teeth to engage the boys. These boys were being funneled into a terribly boring presentation that connected with 0% of the male population in the room with nearly 20 male subjects and 50% of the 10 female subjects.

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Anti-Fragile and Scouting (Part 2)

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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.

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Applications Awaiting Approval

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The district currently has 13 new leads for scouts and scouters that are stalled in the Invitation Manager and 2 applications for scouts and scouters.

Please make sure that your COR, Unit Chair, and Unit Leader (i.e., Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, or Venturing Advisor) log into to these regularly.

If you cannot clear the application or invitation due to technical difficulties, please email the applicant and me to inform them of the problem.

I have been told that this system will be closed for 60 days during Rechartering, but I have seen no evidences of this yet.

Anti-Fragile and Scouting (Part 1)

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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.

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