As you consider the future of your camp, it’s easy to focus on the external factors that are likely to affect its operation, the demographic influences that shape your markets, the impact of technology on your operations and programming, and on the challenges of an increasingly diverse clientele. Certainly all of the factors identified by your futuring exercises are worth considering. However, the most significant variable that will shape the twenty-first century is the human response to these factors. In other words, the future is you.

The shape of the world will depend on what you create with your resources and knowledge. It will depend upon how you apply technology, how you relate to people, how you choose to make and spend money, and what you value and believe. The future is not something "out there." It is in you, individually and corporately, and in present and future generations. You may not have control over a great deal of the external environment, but you do have control over the most important variable — yourself.

From the beginning of their history, camps and other resident learning centers have been a setting that encourages and enables participants to realize their highest and greatest potential as human beings. While the essential components of camp have remained constant over the past 100 years, the specific focus of the experiences closely matches the social issues of the time. In 2000 and beyond, camp will be one of the few settings where children, youth, and adults can effectively practice and experience attitudes, actions, and skills that will enable them to cope with the pressures of a fast-paced world and be productive and happy citizens.

Are you prepared, personally and through your camp, to create a future that is worth living? The following characteristics can be discovered and nurtured in your camp setting to help you participate effectively in the issues and challenges of the coming century.

Become a Learning Person

It is now a cliche to say that "the only thing that is certain is change." Information, knowledge, and new opportunities in the world are multiplying so fast that there is no such thing as being caught up with the latest trends. Many of the jobs and much of the technology that will be the focus of our lives in just twenty years has not yet been created. The realization of this phenomenon has spawned a new industry — change management — and learning to change has become a primary focus for personal and organizational growth.

In the twenty-first century, you must become a learning person. A learning person approaches life with a different set of assumptions than was typical of the twentieth century. A learning person believes that life is fluid, not static, that ideas and new opportunities are constantly being created, and that new challenges and experiences are not to be feared but are a part of life’s excitement. A learning person does not live with the illusion that there is a place to arrive (personally or professionally) and thus remains flexible at all times and in every situation.

As a learning person, you will understand that it is not possible to know everything, and you will be able to focus, without distraction, on knowledge and information that is applicable to your personal situation. You will develop skills and apply technology that enables you to search out relevant information and retrieve and store it in a manageable fashion.

You will view life as a cumulative educational experience, realizing that ways of thinking and behaving may no longer be relevant as a practice but that experience is never lost. The process of learning — whether we win or lose, succeed or fail — creates a foundation for addressing the new issues of tomorrow.

Develop a High Level of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EQ), according to recent research, is far more important to effectiveness and success than is IQ. Emotionally intelligent individuals have the ability to be in control of themselves and the way that they respond to any situation or person, enabling them to maximize their unique abilities, apply their knowledge to developing personal competencies, achieve goals based on both intellect and values, and participate meaningfully in human culture.

Emotional intelligence is the basis for a civil society — something that is tenuous in many U.S. communities and across the world. Life depends on more than accessing and processing information, you must be able to relate to others in effective and mutually beneficial ways. You must be willing to respect differences, negotiate disagreements, empathize with suffering, understand contrary points of view, share, and seek opinions from peers. You must know yourself, be able to "read" the emotions of others, and have personal self-discipline to maintain balance in your life. These are emotional and relational skills, learned only through interaction with others. There is truly no more effective setting than a camp to intentionally teach and provide opportunity to practice the personal disciplines and interpersonal relationship skills that create emotional intelligence.

Appreciate Diversity

To appreciate diversity in the twenty-first century, you must see the world as bigger than your own perceptions and learn to value the unique characteristics in others as a way of enlarging your own world. Appreciating diversity will help you affirm your own unique perspective, culture, values, and beliefs without dependence upon others who agree or approve.

Appreciating diversity is the attitudinal foundation for learning skills required to be an effective participant in a world of people and situations unlike your own. You will need to develop sophisticated skills for communicating with persons from all types of settings (ethnic, racial, economic, social, educational, and religious). Without compromising your own identity or integrity, you should be able to convey genuine concern, warmth, understanding, caring, and interest for persons whose specific beliefs and practices are quite different from your own. Despite your differences, you should find common ground to articulate mutual concerns and understand the interdependence of the human race. Can you think of a setting more ideal than camp to affirm the values and practice the communication skills across racial, religious, ethnic, educational, or national boundaries?

Value Wholeness and Balance

A phenomenon related to the twenty- and thirty-year-old population is their refusal to give every waking hour to work. They value their leisure time, their families, and their participation in community, and thus refuse to be consumed by a job. In her book, The Popcorn Report, Faith Popcorn reports that many executives who successfully climbed the corporate ladder in the 1980s are choosing in the 1990s to cash it all in for a simpler, more balanced life, even if it means less financial means. In Mega Trends 2000, John Naisbett anticipates that the people of the world will increasingly be concerned about their spiritual well-being. This quest may be acted out in religious or secular ways, but it is a recognition that human life has a transcendent quality about it, and to be fully human, we must search out meaning and understanding beyond ourselves.

Individuals who are capable of being fully alive in the twenty-first century will find meaningful ways to understand and articulate their own spiritual values and beliefs. They will lead balanced lives, finding the time and space for all of the necessary functions and roles to be personally satisfied and productive as a human being. A part of the wholeness and balance for these persons will be the ability to know and respect boundaries of all kinds: interpersonal, addictions, time, personal commitments, and finances.

Is there a better way for children, youth, and adults to practice these choices and disciplines to search for meaning than in the focused and intentional environment of a camp?

What an incredible opportunity you have as a camp leader . . . not to be threatened or inhibited by the challenges of the new millennium, but to anticipate that your settings and processes can be among the most valuable tools available to help persons of all ages prepare for the greatest century in human history. Get ready, because the future is you.


Originally published in the 1999 November/December issue of Camping Magazine.