Why scouting?

New Foundation Fitting the Scouting Mission

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A new foundation that fits the scouting mission. Lenore Skenazy is an Eagle Scout mom from New York City. Her 2012 interview on ScoutmasterCG.com is fascinating. The website Free Range Kids is very interesting. Her book is interesting, too.

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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.

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* 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.

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.

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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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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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Perception and Adaptation

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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 »

Hurricane Maria: An update on BSA members in Puerto Rico. Ways you can help.

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Bryan on Scouting has just posted this article on how to help after Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

To my view, the most important part of this article is that the councils and units affected have been slow to report their needs. This creates a risk of their needs being forgotten or overlooked by the rest of the BSA.

This slow response to state needs makes a lot of sense. First, the BSA is built on a diffused organizational system. National Council needs information from local councils. Local councils need information from districts. Districts need information from units. Units need information from unit leaders. Unit leaders are busy caring for their families, work or businesses, and places of worship.

Now the information trickle is beginning. The BSA has created several central clearinghouses of information. Units can make direct appeals for help. The BSA has created a central fundraising website. Now we know where to look for what is needed.

So the next question seems to be, “What can our unit do?”

What you can do is still limited by BSA regulations. Let’s take a quick look so that these are all fresh in mind.

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Misbehavior, Ideals, and Scouting

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As I have watched the news this past weekend, I have seen families flooded by storms. I have seen individuals bring themselves to action with their own fishing boats saving lives, individuals delivering clothes and material to the Houston Convention Center, and first responders from all over the country arriving in Houston to support the local Houston first responders.Youth Protection Logo

Moments later, I watched a news report about Antifa supporters attacking Neo-Nazis and similar protesters, using disturbing techniques from decades ago.

What contrasts these two sets of stories present about our modern American experience!

Scouting represents one of the most powerful sources of good in America today. We teach morality and citizenship through 12 simple points. The Scout Law is a powerful tool for teaching good citizenship and good choices.

Yet in modern scouting I see some well-intentioned persons in the national office pushing the latest buzz phrases of “anti-bullying.” This is a profound mistake and flaw in the scouting program. It is a mistake that unintentionally contributes to conflicts rather than calms conflicts. (I must admit the BSA’s approach is less egregious than other similar campaigns that I have seen. There are fewer “don’t” phrases and more “here are things to watch out for”.)

Have you ever watched your son run around a pool deck, right next to a lifeguard? What does the college-aged lifeguard usually do? The lifeguard yells, “Don’t run!” What happens? Your son may slow down to a jog or to a walk or to a skip. Very quickly though, the lifeguard’s admonition is forgotten. Almost certainly in the next 5 minutes, the lifeguard will again be yelling, “Don’t run!” again. Is this a lesson that boys just don’t listen?

What happens if the lifeguard changes her admonition? What if she yells, “Walk!”? In my personal experience, the lifeguard won’t have to contend with jogging or skipping. She will have to contend with running 5 minutes later. With a second admonition of “Walk!” she will likely have to intercede less often. Overall the pool deck will have more kids walking. Read the rest of this entry »