Deep in the woods on the other side of the lake, on a remote path known almost exclusively by our campers, rests the Manning plaque on a solid stone foundation. The honorarium was dedicated in 1924 to the memory of Mr. Robert L. Manning:
“E’EN AS HE TROD THAT DAY TO GOD
SO WALKED HE FROM HIS BIRTH
IN SIMPLENESS AND GENTLENESS
AND HONOR AND CLEAN MIRTH”
We know little about Mr. Manning, but imagine he would have been a good role model. For people in camping, Opening Day is New Year’s Day. Let’s take a closer look at the words used to commemorate Robert Manning and see how they might apply to some early-session camp community discussions.
SIMPLENESS: Make life simpler. Unpretentious pleasures trump material things: the beauty of one’s surroundings, the company of friends, a chance to grow -- both physically and emotionally. These examples are not only simple, they are free! At camp, we strive to make everything as uncomplicated as possible. “The fun is in the doing,” is our mantra, and there is little need to complicate things by assigning a grade, rank, or level to everything a camper does. Children get enough of that at school.
This is not to suggest that brave or persistent effort shouldn’t be publicly recognized. Recently, when a boy was praised at a camp meeting for making it all the way around the lake on skis during his first effort, a director made it a point to cross the room to shake his hand. “No trophy, no ribbon, not even a patch for you,” teased the director, with confidence the camper comprehended fully where this camp value lay. When a humble and sincere “Thanks!” is a youngster’s heartfelt response to a compliment, rather than a “What do I get?” then we are witnessing some solid character growth- one where simple pleasures have trumped material things.
GENTLENESS: Be a gentle soul. The gentleness of Robert L. Manning must have been of a kind and tender sort. We urge boys to do much more than merely control their emotions. One Sunday per session, at camp meeting, we discuss the phrase “To make a friend, you have to be a friend.” Veteran campers offer sage advice and then practice what they preach. Gentleness, while not necessarily defined as such, is a prime ingredient in the friendship recipe. “Be sort of quiet at first and do more listening than talking” is one thought likely to be voiced at this gathering. “Laugh at the other guy’s jokes, even if they are not that funny” is another suggestion.
With good advice like this, campers learn that they can be tough competitor’s on the ball field or clever wits in conversation while also evoking kindheartedness in their actions. What a deal it is for a youngster to learn he can gain the understanding and acceptance of his peers without first needing to throw his weight around to get their attention.
HONOR: Conduct yourself with honor. We tell boys to do the right thing regardless of the consequences. Many of our games are self-refereed. If a boy is tagged, he removes himself from that round of the game. “I did not catch the pass in bounds,” or “I trapped the ball,” or “Yes, I fouled him under the basket” are all honorable actions that become camp imperatives over time. Time is the operative word where honor is concerned. While the human survival instinct calls for self-preservation, the discipline of personal accountability – taking of responsibility for one’s actions – is a learned trait.
Anything that needs to be taught must be repeated over and over again. Even at the lowest end of the acceptable behavioral spectrum (horsing around) we ask kids to think through each action from the other person’s point of view. The “tradition of expectation” is that no one gets hurt, physically or emotionally and that whatever is done is easily undone. We expect to see good attitudes on the sports field, to hear about hikes completed without complaint, and to observe children praising the accomplishments of others rather than demanding attention for themselves. Out of many such episodes comes a life of honor.
CLEAN MIRTH: Celebrate good clean fun. Mirth is defined as “amusement, especially when expressed with laughter.” Clean means “morally uncontaminated, pure, innocent, and not sexually offensive or obscene.”
Clearly, the fun of camp should be of the clean mirth sort. There is a fine line between laughing with and laughing at, between exuberance and trash-talk, and between aggressive play and unsportsmanlike conduct on the sports field. Events conspire to bring young people to the brink of these distinctions every day of their lives. At summer camp, children are both taught and find out for themselves the important differences between clean and not-so-clean mirth. Camp is a great place to work with kids privately when they misbehave and acknowledge more publicly when a group of them has a spot-on joyous happenstance. Camp is one of the great laboratories for sorting out these distinctions.
Everyone at camp lives for those deliriously happy occasions where the fun has been in the doing and that’s all there is to it. On one occasion, near dusk, shouts of unrestrained glee came echoing across the calm waters of the lake. Some lifeguards and campers had taken the 20 foot square fishing dock, and had paddled it, Huck Finn style, into open water. Now, they were almost home and the rafters wanted everyone along the shore to greet their return. “Right paddle,” “left reverse,” were orders shouted above the din as the make-shift raft slowly and gracefully glided back to the exact spot of departure. That is a moment that Robert L. Manning would have loved. Simple. Gentle. Honorable. Clean Mirth. We could all do well to cling to such simple virtues as these every day of our lives.
“Camp 101” is a blog co-authored by the father/son team of Bob and Rob Wipfler, co-directors of Kingswood Camp for Boys in Piermont, NH. Together they have over 101 years of experience at residential summer camps. www.kingswoodcamp.com