Learning from Boy Scouts

I will be spending some time with a few Boy Scouts over the next three days on a camping trip to the Oregon Coast.  As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows, a campout that includes hiking, fishing, and a good run along the beach is no great sacrifice on my part.  The only drawback, from my point of view, is that I have to be a responsible person throughout the trip.

The Boy Scouts of America has changed since the days I entered the organization as a Cub in the early 1960s.  Adult leaders are carefully screened and required to take training on appropriately dealing with sensitive issues, such as allegations of sexual abuse.  Hard lessons have been learned about the risks associated with taking boys into wilderness areas or to places with special hazards like those found on the Coast.

Despite the changes, taking responsibility for the safety of young men who never seem to appreciate their own vulnerability is inherently risky business.  Part of our preparation for this trip was my lecture about three of my high school classmates who were killed by a sneaker wave while on a field trip to the Coast in 1970.  The easy and safest choice would be to stay home and let the boys’ parents assume responsibility for exposing their children to the dangers of the world.  Making that choice, however, would deprive these young men of experience they will need to become mature and responsible themselves.

My hope is that our trip will be uneventful, yet interesting and fun.  Each young man has to plan for and prepare one group meal, in addition to packing all the necessary gear for an outdoor adventure.  Over the years, I’ve seen many a soggy Scout who learned the value of a good tent the hard way.  As a former Scout myself, I’ve prepared by securing my own emergency food supply and will, of course, have my own mountaineering tent.  I’ve also noticed how the ground becomes progressively harder with each passing year; so I’m hoping to slip a foam pad into the truck.  I really prefer backpacking to car camping, but I’ve learned to never waste an opportunity to get a decent night’s sleep.

I think we undervalue the problem solving skills our young people gain by accepting challenges and adapting to different environments.  Most of our lives are not spent in classrooms, and we need to apply our knowledge in a variety of settings.  A group camping trip is a good challenge and a test of our ability to adapt to things literally outside of our comfort zones.  I will let you know how this exercise in character building works out in next week’s blog post (assuming I make it back).