As the BSA moves to being 100% co-ed, we need to study carefully what makes the BSA uniquely successful. In business this is called “best practices.” Best practices are an attempt to articulate in clear language and procedures what patterns of behavior in a business consistently lead to success, wherever tried.
The BSA has a history of moving adult leadership toward co-ed, so that once what was solely the province of men is now open to open women, too, especially the role of Scoutmaster. Even within our own district we have had successful female scoutmasters and cubmasters leading boys.
As girls move into the provinces that were once for boys only, we should consider with diligent care what are the Best Practices of leading scouts and cub scouts.
Since BSA adult leadership has been dominated by men with consistent involvement of women, some of the habits and practices that we have generated have come spontaneously from typical male leadership patterns. They are habits arising without thought or discussion. Some typically-male practices have been encouraged, such as the tendency toward a rougher and more chaotic pattern of play and participation. Some typically-male practices have been discouraged or outright banned, such as yelling orders at boys or hazing.
Psychologically we know that women tend to be more nurturing, protective, and risk avoiding, especially of infants and younger children; men tend to be more physically playful, bombastic, and risk inviting. According to Professor of Psychology Jordan Peterson, these two patterns help support one another in developing the most well balanced children. Both are essential to a psychologically healthy child. (Most of the analysis below is Peterson’s.)
Mothers create a safe environment where a child knows that the child will be well cared for when the child runs into problems, conflicts, or chaos. Mothers physically embrace and comfort children without hesitation when problems arise. Mothers speak soothingly and tenderly, allowing the child to right himself from whatever has upset him. This comfort and soothing are critical to allow a child to quickly find balance after something disrupt the calm surrounding the child. When my son was small, and even today as prepares to leave for college, when he is upset or frustrated, he is most likely to talk to my wife. My wife gives my son peace of mind.
Fathers create a risky environment where a child can explore the boundaries of the child’s body, its capabilities, and its limitations and of the world-at-large. Fathers are more likely to engage in rough and tumble play with the children. Children learn the limits of their bodies in such play. They learn that dad is heavier and harder to hurt. They learn there are consequences for inflicting pain on playmates. They learn difference between play and real fights. But most interestingly, children are so motivated by play that when dad tells them to do their homework before playing with dad, the children are more likely to do the dreary work first in order to be able to play with dad. This is one of the first and most effective means of teaching children the value of delayed gratification. When my son was younger, assuming dinner wasn’t ready, I would often toss my infant son up in the air and catch him, or tickle him. As he got older, I would change clothes then wrestle with him on the bed or do whatever game caught his attention at the time.
The father’s role in learning makes sense. Since we are creatures with bodies, our learning begins in the physical body’s interaction with the world. Our actions teach us more about the world than do our brains. We learn stoves are hot and dangerous through feeling heat (and hopefully avoiding contact). We learn how balls bounce through playing with balls, not reading books.
We learn how to walk through trying, while scientists are just now figuring out how to have robots do the same thing. This is called “embodied learning.” Robot designers have struggled with how to teach robots how to perceive and adapt to the world. They have used enormous amounts of computer processing and had little success. When they changed their perspective and focused on how a robot with a body would interact with the world, they quickly made huge break throughs. We embody learning because our bodies are our point of contact with the external world.
We learn love from mother’s caresses and hugs. We learn to walk by climbing up tables and trying our first steps. We learn to read by touching the page with our fingers to track where the next letter will be. We learn to treat others well through rough and tumble play. We learn to clean dishes after a meal when there are no clean dishes at the next meal. We learn to plan ahead by physically suffering from bad choices previously made. There becomes a desire to avoid the suffering the next time.
This physicality of embodied learning is a natural strength for male leaders. It encourages trial and error. It encourages individuality. It allows maturity-appropriate suffering while always avoiding and teaching the risks of life- or health-threatening suffering. Embodied learning is a core component of scouting.
So as girls become more involved in scouting, we have to be able to assess where male and female leaders strengths best serve our Best Practices.
We need to consider our Youth Protection Training and natural inclinations arising from chivalric principles about how men should treat and interact with women and young girls. How do we offer girls the benefits of embodied learning and physicality generally without overstepping our bounds, especially for male leaders?
I would suggest we recognize that these girls are joining Cub Scouts and likely will join Scouts BSA to have the experience of risk-taking, embodied learning, and other characteristics of male play that the girls have found lacking in other extracurricular offerings. We need to offer these girls what they have come for.
That means that mothers and fathers who are more risk averse for their “fragile” daughters need to be coached about the value of embodied learning that challenges these girls’ self-imposed limits. We need these mothers and fathers to recognize these challenges will make the girls anti-fragile. As a result, these girls will be happier, more self-confident, and more resilient.
In other words, we need to grow comfortable with telling the daughters’ parents that we don’t intend to water down the BSA program for their daughters. It is the undiluted BSA program that works. In essessence, we need to be prepared to explain why scouting works for boys and girls.
Can we develop better national soccer teams using Baden Powell’s methods than travel soccer? The evidence is coming in that answer is profoundly “yes.” From my years of backyard athletics, I can attest the skills development was profound. Read this blog post and the new book Shoeless Soccer for more.
Subtitle: Or the Roar of the Crowd versus the Eagle Court of Honor.
I offered my thoughts on the differences between sports’ lessons on team work and personal development versus scouting in those same domains.
I was watching Professor Jordan Peterson, whom I have introduced before. In his fifth lecture on Maps and Meaning, he has an interesting side discussion on the dopamine effects on the brain for positive reinforcement. Yes, he is lecturing on Pinochio, and very funny in the process.
In the segment I am highlighting, the professor suggests that striving toward a vision or major goal in life is crucial for finding meaning in life (23:30). In one part of his analysis, he analyzes why athletes can have an injured thumb or sprained ankle and continue to play. Yet, the athlete is in excruciating pain once the competition is over. He attributes this mind over matter to the focus of a goal-oriented mind. In this case, the goal is winning the game, whether regular season, post-season, or championship game is not discussed. Implicit in the point, based on his later analysis, is the notion that the athlete is probably seeking a longer-term goal, as he defines it. (Championship trophy, college recruitment, all-time record, etc.)
The professor suggests that long-term goals are crucial for finding meaning in life (as opposed to the grander “meaning of life”) and personal satisfaction.* The professor hypothesizes that a person feels a dopamine (i.e., good feeling) response from the brain when a significant step toward a self-identifed, valued, larger goal is accomplished. Each step that moves the progress toward the long-term goal foward compounds the dopamine response. Then brain starts to associate accomplishing the long-term goal as a source of good feelings. Absent the longer-range goal, the person has a random spike in dopamine that does little to incentivize future behavior. It is important that the person have dopamine spikes often enough and systematically enough to engage this personal satisfaction.
As I have noted before, my latest obsession is Professor Jordan Peterson. His recent book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, is a tour de force in offering a way to live a good life. This is not the normal self-help book. This is the work of a deep philosophical thinker, practicing psychologicology research professor, practicing clinical psychologist, and practicing lecturing professor. He thinks about people, studies psychology, uses psychology, and teaches about people and psychology. For example, he understands that knowing what the rules of life and being able to follow them are not the same thing. It takes practice to be an actively moral person.
To that end, his fifth rule is “Do Not Let your Children Do Anything that Makes You Dislike Them.” He opens the chapter this way,
RECENTLY, I WATCHED A THREE-YEAR-OLD boy trail his mother and father slowly through a crowded airport. He was screaming violently at five-second intervals— and, more important, he was doing it voluntarily. He wasn’t at the end of his tether. As a parent, I could tell from the tone. He was irritating his parents and hundreds of other people to gain attention. Maybe he needed something. But that was no way to get it, and his parents should have let him know that. You might object that “perhaps they were worn out, and jet-lagged, after a long trip.” But thirty seconds of carefully directed problem-solving would have brought the shameful episode to a halt. More thoughtful parents would not have let someone they truly cared for become the object of a crowd’s contempt.
Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Kindle Locations 2377-2383). Random House of Canada. Kindle Edition. In the chapter he goes on to explain that making a child welcome in the world-at-large is a big job for parents. If the parents like the child, because the child is well-behaved, when the child visits others’ homes or places of business, adults will greet the child warmly. This warm reception will make the child more likely to be well-behaved. Well-behaved kids tend to have an easier time making friends their own age. They are happier and more connected socially. Since we are social animals, this is important.
In the Washington Post, from last year that I have been meaning to write about, a fascinating article about emotional isssues that kids in college are facing. The focus of the article that the title suggest the emphasis is on women’s college sports. The content is far broader, even though the persons interviewed are women’s college coaches and affiliate personnel.
One strong passage caught my eye.
Talk to coaches, and they will tell you they believe their players are harder to teach, and to reach, and that disciplining is beginning to feel professionally dangerous. Not even U-Conn.’s virtuoso coach, Geno Auriemma, is immune to this feeling, about which he delivered a soliloquy at the Final Four.
“Recruiting enthusiastic kids is harder than it’s ever been,” he said. “. . . They haven’t even figured out which foot to use as a pivot foot and they’re going to act like they’re really good players. You see it all the time.”
Some of the aspects emphasized apply equally well to scouters working with scouts.
It doesn’t take a social psychologist to perceive that at least some of today’s coach-player strain results from the misunderstanding of what the job of a coach is, and how it’s different from that of a parent. This is a distinction that admittedly can get murky. The coach-player relationship has odd complexities and semi-intimacies, yet a critical distance too. It’s not like any other bond or power structure. Parents may seek to smooth a path, but coaches have to point out the hard road to be traversed, and it’s not their job to find the shortcuts. Coaches can’t afford to feel sorry for players; they are there to stop them from feeling sorry for themselves.
Coaches are not substitute parents; they’re the people parents send their children to for a strange alchemical balance of toughening yet safekeeping, dream facilitating yet discipline and reality check. The vast majority of what a coach teaches is not how to succeed but how to shoulder unwanted responsibility and deal with unfairness and diminished role playing, because without those acceptances success is impossible.
Here is a key conclusion.
The bottom line is that coaches have a truly delicate job ahead of them with iGens. They must find a way to establish themselves as firm allies of players who are more easily wounded than ever before yet demand they earn praise through genuine accomplishment.
From this article we can draw a couple key conclusions:
- In our role as scouters, we can help prepare our scouts, boys and girls, for their college experience. We can teach them to deal with “unwanted responsibility” such as cleaning up after dinner or cleaning the latrine and with “unfairness” such as being assigned camp tasks too many times when others have not had their rotation.
- We can be the “toughening yet safekeeping, dream facilitating yet discipline and reality check” that is parents to provide for their own kids.
- We can be “firm allies” of scouts “who are more easily wounded than ever before yet demand they earn praise through genuine accomplishiment” such as rank advancement, BSA Life Guard training, mile swim patch, or high adventure.
So you were recruited to serve as an adult leader for “one hour per week.” Several years later you are amazed by not only what your scouts have learned but what you have learned, too. Do you feel like you have grown as a leader? Have you learned personnel management skills? Project management skills? Adaptation to adversity? Have you taken leadership training courses, such as Den Leader Specific Training or Wood Badge?
When you look at your resume for your next job application, have you included your scouting leadership positions like you would any other job? Why not?
Prospective employers want to see applicants that have challenged themselves and learned along the way. They want to see applicants that have learned lessons from failure, especially on someone else’s dime.
When you go back to your resume, consider the following topics for inclusion on your resume:
- Job description
- Risk management
- Team leadership and delegation
- Problems solved
- Leadership training and mentoring
But, don’t look at this only as a way to boost your resume. Look at resume enhancement as a means of recruiting new volunteers. When you talk to scout parents about their life experiences on campouts or during activity breaks, ask them what they do for a living and what their dreams for the future are. If they want to move up into management, suggest that scouting teaches those skills and is a way to get experience. Scouting is as much an experimental lab for adults as it is for scouts.
So look for scout parents who want to grow and recruit them based on what it can do for their careers (never mind networking with scouters who are extremely successful in their professional pursuits.
So make sure you know your scout parents’ resumes. It will work wonders for you.
Scouters are some of the few parents in schools these days that push kids to learn independence. Lenore Skenazy, a mother of two boy scouts, has been pushing for schools to change the message sent home about how children should be raised. The results are dramatic and eye-opening.
It is so profound, that she has moved from just writing about the problem at Free Range Kids to developing a curriculum at Let Grow. It comes down to dealing with the problem of “helicopter parenting” that is so damaging to children.
We at Council should be looking at this as a way to get into schools. What happens if a bunch of scouters decide not to push to put a scout unit in the school, but instead approach the school principle or the school board one-on-one for coffee then as a group at school board meeting in uniform; the message is “we love scouting, but we encourage independent growth of citizens whether in scouting or through other programs.” The school leaders may be resistant. Yet, what happens if we can replicate Lenore Skenazy’s success with simple Let Grow curricula? Do we gain credibility?
A “Failure” of a Son is a video produced by a young man who taught himself Chinese after leaving college. I don’t speak Mandarin, so I cannot attest to its validity or quality of accent. I am impressed with the message. It plays well with why I think scouting is so successful by allowing scouts to “fail safely.”
Once you are done watching the several-minute video, stop in the Let It Grow website to learn more about what this organization is doing. Its founder is an Eagle Scout mom and a bigger supporter of New York City Scouting.
Since today is Groundhog Day, let’s watch Bill Murray and think about the meaning of life.
About two weeks ago, I ran across some blog posts lauding the interview on British Channel 4 of Professor Jordan Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. Throughout the entire interview (beginning with the first question), the lady doing the interview was picking at him and developed into a nasty onslaught. Despite it, Professor Peterson was the epitomy of Canadian courteous.
I became fascinated with this gentleman. I found his YouTube page and began devouring his lectures. I started on his 2015 lectures on personality.
In lecture number 14 of that series, he is discussing the meaning of life and its impact on the choices that people make (1:01 mark). In previous lectures, he questions whether the Existentialists like Dostoyevsky, Kirkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Camus were right that the meaning of life is to suffer. If life is suffering, the Existentialists thought that the only solution was to live a truthful and moral life, thereby limiting the spread of suffering. Some were atheists, some were Christians (Kirkegaard and Dostoyevky). So Peterson picks up on this idea of suffering as part of the key component of living.
Peterson points that a resentful person is mad at the world. He is likely seeking to punish the source of the suffering, the person or group of people. The resentful person in suffering wishes to spread suffering as his revenge. Peterson uses this process of vengence as a strong rationale for good and moral behavior. Peterson suggests that each person makes contact with easily 1000 other people over the course of his life (since this is a scouting blog with a primarily male membership for the next few months, we will stick with “he”). Those 1000 people touch a 1000 people. Those 1000 touch another 1000. If each of these contacts is unique persons, that is over 1 billion people that are only 3 touches away. If we use more conservative mathematics, it is still easy to see that tens of millions of people are only 3 touches away; hundreds of millions are 4 touches away.
Peterson suggests that spreading suffering through vengence-seeking behavior has the ability to spread ill feelings and will quickly. It is the effort of the individual to spread friendliness, curtesy, kindness, and cheerfulness that can help break this spread of suffering.
How do we teach a scout to spread friendliness, curtesy, kindness, and cheerfulness? What about putting them in the woods in less than ideal weather? What will happen? Inexperienced scouts will be cranky, angry, and difficult. Yet if they go out in these conditions and experience friendship, comraderie, joy, silliness, and adventure, they learn that hard conditions do not necessarily make a hard person. They learn to see the glass as half-full when the rest of the world wants to ignore the glass exists.
A couple of years ago, we took our troop to the requisite Pokegon State Park tobogan run. We camped out at the edge of the park. The weather was cold that February, and the wind blew over the snow. The scouts were having so much fun sledding, making snow forts, having snowball fights, cooking in the cold, and all the other aspects of troop campout. They didn’t see the cold as a cause of suffering. The cold created the opportunity to enjoy the snow. Cold created the cheerfulness and joy.
Another several campouts all had the same experience. We arrive. The heavens open with a downpour. We spend much of the rest of the campout under shelters playing card games and telling stories. The weather created the chance for patience and mutual interaction.
This is where scouting shines through as the best means of developing character and citizenship in our scouts. They don’t learn to seek joy; they learn to experience joy.
Compare this to the many teenagers who spend most of their time bored and seeking out stimulation and excitement. They don’t have joy so they believe that they need to seek excitement or connection. They seek out dangerous activities or risky behaviors to have an experience of joy. Their daredevil behavior or chemical abuse provides a short buzz, then boredom returns. What stories do they have to share? Daredevils always have the “you’ll never believe what we did” story. Chemical abusers only have “we were so wasted” stories.
Scouts have stories like, “On our fifth day in the Boundary Waters, the rain set in, so we heard thunder. We quickly paddle for shore. As we sat on shore in raingear, we told stupid stories and laughed the hardest we had the whole trip.” (Ask my son about it. It is amazing how waiting on shore can lead to such involved stories.) At the end of the stories, though is an accomplishment: they paddle 50 miles for a week under some rough weather. That lesson is more than a momentary daredevil fix. It is a lesson in finding joy where suffering is possible.
On another canoeing trip, I saw an adult upset that the group was not doing what he wanted. He became resentful. He spent the next day pouting, complaining, and seeking to make everyone else suffer. The rest of the group ignored his antics and kept laughing.
That is Peterson’s lesson on suffering. Spreading suffering is an individual choice that has a significant impact on the individuals around you. A scout learns in the wilderness how to cope with rough situations or dramatic personalities that have the potential to spread suffering. If he can cope with suffering, he is more likely to find joy.
You don’t have to see the world like Kirkegaard in finding God through the suffering and mysteries of life to see the value of using a campout to find joy amidst the suffering of inclement weather.
Don’t treat bad weather as an excuse not to camp. Use bad weather as opportunity to accelerate the citizenship and character building opportunities that are unique to scouting. Your scouts will grow. Your unit will grow.
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.