Talking With Youth

The title might be a little misleading as my discussion point is not directed at the youth within the Boy Scouting program but instead to the young men (and women) who work for me.  Over the past several weeks I have met with some of our staff and had a chance to talk with them either face to face or by phone.  Yesterday I had the opportunity to mini-interview one of our former staff members and found myself having a very pleasant discussion that covered everything from mutual acquaintances to actual college course work.  This is not surprising as I have found in these past years that I have enjoyed talking with many of my young staff members more than I thought I could.

When I first came on staff, the Camp Director and Program Director were much older than I was.  Still, I felt comfortable being able to talk with them at any given time, however I was very careful with what I said.  I remember that when either one of them happened to be in my area I would begin to have some "angst", a little nervousness that either I had done something wrong or I was about to do something wrong.  When I first became Program Director, most of the staff were not that much younger than I was, probably four or five years in general so my interactions with them were more along the peer line.  Since I have been very much associated with the camp through the years I never felt that I moved too far away from being "one of the guys."  Unfortunately (or fortunately) this past decade has done nothing more than to remind me how much older I am when compared to my general staff........and it is not getting much better as time goes on.

Most people who know me understand that I do not suffer fools well.  Although I am "friendly" I am very "a"-emotional (as opposed to unemotional) when it comes to meeting people, at least to begin with.  Part of it is that I am usually distracted by thinking about something else, however the other reasons include the fact that I may not wish to expend the energy to get to know someone I am unlikely to see again.  Don't take that the wrong way, I meet people at meetings, dinners, events, etc give a hearty handshake and participate in meaningless banter......that is not being fake, just being social.  When it comes to my staff however, I take the time to get to know them, but it is usually at a distance as many will just fade into the mist as time goes on.  We have our usual staff that give a year of service which we call "one and done" and we have our second year staff members; all of whom give their best when they worked their particular summer.  Usually by the second week of camp I have their names down and by the end of summer I think I have a pretty good "bead" on them.  However I seldom engage any of them in any particular discussion.  If they return for several years, then I will get to know them better.

Then there are a handful of staff members that return year after year.  You see them through high school then through college.  You are dragged somewhat into their life as they live at camp for nine weeks and so you hear their stories and see them interact with their peers.  These are the staff members that I do get to know and find myself actually having an intelligent discussion with them......even if they are 19.  As a matter of fact, I could sit in my cabin with several of my peers who are in their 40's, 50's and (gasp) even "60"s along with these younger staff members and the discussion would be just as lively with them engaged on a topic.  From my standpoint I find it refreshing to listen to an intelligent young person who is passionate about a topic talk with an individual who probably shares the same passion "of'" the topic but is jaded by his experiences in life that have made him reassess his views.  For people that I would as easily dismiss due to their lack of experience, I find myself engaged in discussions and actually enjoy them.  In fact I enjoy them so much that if I happen to be in Seattle or some other town where one of our senior staff would be either working or going to school, I seek out time to have a chat or an adult beverage (if they are an adult) with them.

Despite all of this however, the staff are still young and although I enjoy the intelligent banter, they also have work to do.  If they fail in this manner, then it doesn't matter how witty, smart or talented they may be as individuals, they will not be at camp for very long.  That is the hard part.  Every now and then you will have a very talented young man who just cannot do the work that camp requires him to do.  It is not due to the lack of skills, it has to do with the lack of implementation........a fancy word for being lazy.  So there is the challenge in dealing with our youth.....although you may be able to discuss some things almost as you would a peer, they are not peers and they have to follow their own course.

I enjoyed talking with my Camp Director and Program Director when I was 15, I learned so much from them which helped me as I moved on in life.  I was able to apply many of their experiences to what I went through.  Today I find that my discussions with our younger staff helps counter my natural cynicism so although they may benefit from my discussions, I certainly benefit from their energy.