While I had planned on taking a bit of time off from writing and speaking, I felt compelled to say something about the sad and important moment our society currently faces.
Now, you may be thinking, ‘Cole, you are a white, southern guy – what the heck do you know or have experienced to make you a person who should comment?’
The answer is: very little. I know I’m luckier than 99% of the world. I also know that I’m a part of a community that, for a few weeks each summer, connects people from all walks of life, all socio-economic backgrounds, and dozens and dozens of different perspectives. Please take the following in the latter vein, that of someone trying to listen, learn, and help.
Race at Camp Weequahic
I spent time over the past week speaking with some of our past, present and future staff who are people of color. They were so open, patient and honest with me. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate their time and courage to speak with me in that way.
We’ve not had conversations about race at Camp Weequahic because that’s not what camp is about. To me, Weequahic, at its very core, is about living out this one truth: we are all worthy of love and respect. No matter where you come from, what you look like, how much money you have or anything else.
“If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.”Mother Teresa
At camp, for a few short, wonderful weeks, we get a sense of ‘belonging to one another.’
There are no distractions. Life is much simpler here underneath the pines for those fleeting moments. And, because our entire staff decides to follow one mission – that of creating an amazing experience for everyone we meet through gratitude, attitude, and courage – we get close to erasing everything that could divide us in the outside world.
Outside of camp, I fear Mother Teresa’s admonition hits a little too close to home. We’ve got problems in our outside world. This is nothing new. We always have problems. You can’t live together as humans and not have problems. Heck, you can’t live by yourself and not have problems.
A House On Fire
Earlier this year, I wrote a note about our small neighborhood. In relationship to the Earth, Weequahic is a tiny neighborhood. We’ve got several small houses, play areas, a nice lake and more. If one of our bunks were on fire, we’d all work together to help, wouldn’t we? We’d get everyone out safely, care for them, and rebuild something even better.
Well, compared to our galaxy, the Milky Way, our Earth is an even smaller ‘neighborhood’ than Weequahic is to the Earth. As far as we know, we are the only humans for millions and millions of lightyears. We’ve only got each other.
Weequahic, one of our neighborhood houses is on fire. It’s been smoldering for years. Because of the repugnant, brutal actions of a few, that house is now burning. Are we going to help put out the flames and work together to help rebuild towards a brighter future? Or are we going to ignore and just focus on our own?
Many people are angry right now. I’d like you to try something: think of anger as pain made public. When you approach it this way, you begin to open up to listening in hopes of understanding and working side by side rather than at odds. You begin to treat the other as you would want to be treated. You begin to find common ground on which you can both stand.
So, how do we, the eyes of this camp director, move forward to a better, more just world? To be honest, I’m not sure. However, after asking questions of those I respect and love, here are a few ideas that I think may help.
First, recognize we have members of our human family who are in pain right now.
Second, listen with empathy.
That is harder than it sounds for many of us because it requires us to be what’s called emotionally intelligent. Before you can get to that point, though, you have to know how talk about what you are feeling. You have to be emotionally literate.
This is harder when we are stressed, out of our routines or anxious.
I don’t know about you but I’m feeling that way right now. How about you? While we may be in a situation across the US where these feelings are widespread, the Covid situation doesn’t give us a pass for not doing all we can to care for those around us.
The good news about this approach – recognizing and listening for understanding – is that it’ll help you grow. This is something we all want to do.
The bad news is the growth will be uncomfortable.
And it should be. You can’t grow when you are stuck in the same place doing the same things. When you want to grow a muscle or your endurance or your abilities on the piano or with public speaking, you practice and make mistakes and learn and repeat. It’s challenging!
Do you think raising your concerns, your fears, your pain is comfortable? I know many of our campers who have gone through the very natural missing home feelings at camp hide those feelings from their counselors, their division heads, and me. It’s natural – these are uncomfortable feelings. You imagine the conversation about it will be even more uncomfortable.
Weequahic, growth only comes from learning and moving through uncomfortable times. The campers and staff members who have the courage to put a voice to their concerns, a voice to their pain are the ones who come through it better. Those who have the courage to listen for understanding with an open and grateful heart will learn as well.
Tie Your Shoes
Finally, we’ve got to get up, tie our shoes and do something about it.
We, the entire human family, need to
- Ask questions and listen.
- Serve and help and lend a hand.
- Fight (peacefully) for what is just, what is good, and what is right.
- Show that we share an important common ground – that we are all worthy of love and respect – through our actions and words.
I cannot truly walk in your shoes and experience all that you know and feel. You can’t walk in mine. But, we are better, as a human family, when we strive work and play and learn together. We become something more than just a collection of individuals going in the same direction. We become a community and start to belong to one another.
Weequahic’s Challenge to You
Be grateful for those giving voice to their pain. They are giving you a gift and its not an easy one to share.
To those putting a voice to pain, strive to be grateful for those who are listening for understanding. This will not be easy for you and it’s no less important. We’ve got to meet somewhere in between and work together in order to move forward.
And, difficult as it may be, we must all be grateful for the vast majority of women and men who protect and serve in all the right ways – with patience, fortitude, courage and justice.
Choose an attitude of humility, patience, generosity and hope. With this as our base, we can work together to make the world a bit more like camp.
Finally, develop your courage to peacefully and purposefully strive to make the world around you a more just and kind place.
Build a Bridge
The headlines will soon fall away. The media coverage will find something else to bark about. What will be left are those who work on a day-to-day basis to build bridges and bring people forward. Or not. We get to choose.
Camp Weequahic, let’s tie our shoes and put some GAC into the world around you. Do this often enough, you’ll change your home, your class, your team, your group. If we all do it, the effect will magnify. Start small, aim big!