I have touched on this subject before but I was reading a staff member's personal blog the other day in which he was commenting on his personal experiences regarding friends and relationships that he has gathered during his time growing up and how they related to his experiences at camp. What I found interesting was that his take on things is not much different than those who are decades older than him which just tells me that there is a very real "affect" that spending time at camp can have. It is more than just a common community or the fact that you have a group living together engaged in a common goal; no, it is more than just that and I believe it has to do with the "type" of people who are there.
I have routinely extolled the values of scouting that the Boy Scout program promotes. These are found in the Scout Oath and Law and as our current ad campaign states, these are words to live by. Maybe not everyone does live by them due to personal frailty and weakness but most people would want to surround themselves with people do live by them. That, I believe, is the basic attraction that brings people to the program, particularly parents. When it comes to personalities which in many ways is governed by personal traits and values, people have the tendency to be drawn to others that share the same thing. These values are not just words; former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told myself and others while sitting in the dining hall at Camp Parsons that he truly believes that the scouting program is one of the most valuable youth programs as it is based on the characteristics that we believe are necessary for good citizens. Simply put, who wouldn't want a friend or a neighbor who wasn't a "Boy Scout"?
Camp is a microcosm of society, albeit a well controlled one. It is a structured environment with rules and regulations; there are elements of citizenship as noted within the troops and a corporate element when looking at the staff. There are elements of social services (medics, mentors), municipal services (garbage, water, etc.) and so on. There is a social hierarchy (the "jocks" the "cool guys") and yes, although not allowed and dealt with severely, there is a degree of same age hazing that takes place as it does with most male teenagers. All that being said, things run extremely smoothly. So smoothly in fact that you wished this would be the way the rest of the world would work. You have staff members become good if not close friends with other staff members who, if they had been living at home and met them socially, would not have given them the time of day due to social casting. They are not forced to become friends at camp, it is the environment which they live in and the common value system by which they adhere to (or at least understand) that overcomes whatever social "caste" stands in the way in "real" life. During my years on staff as a teenager I had friends in just about every other high school in Seattle which was neat as during the off season when we played sports, I knew someone on the opposing team to the point where my teammates were wondering if I was a "ringer". As a freshman in high school there were staff members who were seniors and played varsity sports who would generally ignore other freshman but would always stop and chat with me or invite me over to their table during lunch. That was a bit of a social boost in high school.
Being at camp is unique. I come across many older people in downtown Seattle who may see a sweatshirt with the camp name on it and say "Is that Camp Parsons?" and go on to regale me with their experience as a scout in the 1950's, just like it was yesterday. I have posted several times about other blogs and speeches I have heard talk about the life changing experiences a hike from Camp Parsons or summers spent at camp have made for some people. As simple as this place is......it matters. For staff......well they are thrown into a nine week adventure; living with roommates, working side by side with peers, teaching, being a role model, staying clean, etc. How many teenagers do that years before college? No wonder the bond is great and lasting.....the values and experiences are the same. Whether you were a staff member in the 1940's or of the 2011 season......the stories and experiences are remarkably similar. Then again, the caliber of those individuals are remarkably similar.
I have camp "friends" who are thirty years older than me and thirty years younger than me. Surprisingly there is not much difference other than the age and length of life experiences (and a little maturity). I have a smattering of high school friends, more from college and some from the rest of my life. It is not surprising that my non-scout friends all blend in with all my scout friends. I have had several staff members comment to me after a weekend or a tailgate when one of my longtime friends from work or college have come by on how "great" they were. My response is, "why would I spend my time with fools?" Being a friend of mine is more than location, a job or an experience.....it is the character of the individual that matters and anyone who has met my closest friends know that.
My Dad was right. When I flew back to Seattle after my first quarter of my freshman year at college I told him of all the great friends I had made at school and how they will be lifelong. He said to me that I would hardly know most of them by the time I graduated. Except for one, he was absolutely right. We all make acquaintances as we go through life, some last longer than others, but that is a far cry from being a close friend. Then again, life is not the microcosm that camp is.
A former staff member got it right when he said to me sometime during his third year on staff, "When I am here at camp, I wonder what the rest of the world is doing because oddly enough, it just doesn't matter to me." I want to go back.