Character Building

Dr. Peter Gray’s Testimony to the Connecticut State Legislature in Favor of a Free-Range Parenting Bill – Let Grow

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Strong case for play without adult supervision.

When you take your unit camping, how much are you present and observant for safety, but removed from the action to allow your kids freedom?

Here’s why observing from a distance is so important:

Dr. Peter Gray’s Testimony to the Connecticut State Legislature in Favor of a Free-Range Parenting Bill – Let Grow
— Read on letgrow.org/dr-peter-grays-testimony-to-the-connecticut-state-legislature-in-favor-of-a-free-range-parenting-bill/

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Stories and the Child’s Developing Mind

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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.

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Camping and Meaning of Life

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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.

 

We Don’t Know — What We Think We Know

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In scouting, we spend an inordinate time dealing with the unknown:

  • Will it rain?
  • Are the boys ready for the backpacking trip?
  • Is the Senior Patrol Leader-elect ready for his job?
  • Am I ready to be the Cubmaster, when everyone else tells me I would be great?

One of the best reasons that scouting works is that it teaches scouts (and adults) humility in the face of the natural elements and adversity in scout meetings. Why is humility important?

Humility is the personal characteristic that a psychologically balanced person has. Humility is not self-deprecation nor self-doubt. Humility is the desire to self-critique that leads to a more thorough and thoughtful response.

To get a sense about how important a dose of humility is, consider the impact of a lack of humility in introducing problems. This is the Dunning Kruger Effect.

So from this video we see that lacking humility to question preparation and understanding leads to hubris and Greek tragedies (and miserable camping trips).

Estimation error is a huge problem in self-assessment. A scout filled with hubris and self-confidence with not a trace of humility estimates that all of his plans are perfect. “I know it won’t rain, so we don’t need the dining flies.”

The estimation error of a humble scout is smaller. “I don’t think it will rain, but, if I am wrong, we will pack dining flies. Maybe we will just take two rather than three.”

One of the best lessons a scoutmaster or cubmaster can teach a scout is how his decision fits in larger patterns of human nature and behavior. Since scouting is learning through experience, it is important to allow safe failures. But it is even better to reflect on how those failures occurred and how to “fail more successfully” next time. To me a more successful failure is one that avoids the errors made last time. “I am not error free, but I work to only make an error once. The next time, I will inadvertently find a new error, hopefully of a smaller magnitude.”

Does your troop or pack take the time to reflect on its successes and failures before going to bed or departing a meeting, when the reflections and lessons are more profound? A scoutmaster or cubmaster suggesting the power of humility during these timely reflections is one of the greatest character building lessons we can offer, that are hard to duplicate anywhere else.