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.
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.
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.
As I have mentioned before, I have been reading the works of Nassim Taleb, beginning
with 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.
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 »
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.
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.
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 »
This summer, Ransburg had a troop from Shanghai stay for a week. I got to talk to them and take pictures with them.
Their English was very impressive. They were all very friendly.
I asked each one their names. They gave me very American names. One boy bashfully introduced himself as “Samantha.” I think he had taken a lot of ribbing for his choice of names. I told him that it was very “creative.” His leaders liked this description.
Then I had them introduce themselves with their Mandarin names. I am ashamed to say that I could not begin to repeat them back.
Scouting lives up to being a Messenger of Peace.
UPDATE 6/2/17: I had several people tell me at District Committee’s meeting last night that the link did not work. Here is the link to the full article again, just in case bobwhiteblather.com/for-best-results-ask-better-questions
What’s interesting about this process is that asking open-ended, thought-provoking questions can, not only guide others to find solutions, but it can change their way of thinking. It is in this change – it’s called neuroplasticity – where we find leadership developing. As leaders develop, their ways of thinking change. They look at challenges differently. They find new ways to look at issues, and their minds open up to the process of problem-solving and engaging others in moving toward a common goal. Executive coach Mary Jo Asmus details the three-step process that happens when you ask insightful – not instructional – questions.
The U.K. Guardian, a strongly leftist newspaper, ran this favorable article about being a scout leader. We don’t often hear from scout leaders about the value to the adult leaders.
Please send me your experiences and benefits from being a scout leader. Or share your thoughts on the comments below. I would like to run our own Indiana version of this article.