As I write this, I am still trying to process the horrific event that occurred on January 8, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona, when a gunman opened fire on a crowd attending a meet and greet with Senator Gabrielle Giffords. The ensuing discussion on civility after this tragic event reinforces my hope that the youth of today will be the answer for tomorrow.
That being said, we must ask ourselves if we, as a camp community, are preparing our youth for the tremendous responsibilities of tomorrow. Community is the fabric of camp; and within our camp communities, we strive to build character and nurture civility as part of the camp experience. Many camps use Michael Josephson's "CHARACTER COUNTS!" approach to share and instill character into their programming, with respect and trustworthiness as two of the six pillars. We put up signs and slogans, but do we talk about how one practices such characteristics? What does it look like? How does it sound? We need to decipher and unbundle the meaning of concepts that are easily tossed about as rhetoric, but not so often demonstrated. We must connect our slogans and signs to our basic humanity and demonstrate those characteristics in our camp communities. What about civility? We all want fairness and self-discipline to be the framework of the camp experience. These attributes should be observable in not only our behavior, but in every camper's and staff member's actions toward one another. When demonstrated, civility should be rewarded and articulated, to make the intentionality of the lessons profound for all those participating. With so many communities lacking both character and civility today, our job is all the more critical and poignant.
I was sharing these thoughts with Ellen Gannett, director of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time at Wellesley College and member of ACA's national Board of Directors. She responded that voice, choice, and leadership were equally important qualities that youth need the opportunity to exercise if, in fact, we hope to treasure and preserve civility.
I have been thinking about Ellen's comment. All three of the qualities she shared are related to power. Yet, I fear many youth today do not feel empowered by the actions of the adults around them. If one's voice is not heard, one's ability to influence the future is muffled. Without choice about the options presented, one also lacks power. A lack of voice and choice indicates one's values and judgments are of no consequence. To take away the voices and choices of today's youth is extremely risky if we hope them to be the leaders of tomorrow.
Our camp counselors are guides, examples, and models — not only for our campers — but for us as well. They are people on the verge of becoming tomorrow's voices, and they will be charged with very serious choices. Their choices will determine if our society remains a civil community with the strength of character to lead. The camp community must be an example of character and civility for our counselors and campers, and we must partner with them to model a better quality of life — for today and for the future. Without a doubt, most parents want their kids to be successful leaders, whether at home, work, or in the community-at-large. We have such an opportunity. It cannot be wasted.