I already posted this once, this past winter. But now that Aloha is underway, camp is on my mind a lot. The things I learned at camp affect me every day, and I'm thankful. Naturally every day can't be as ideal as a day at camp, but I'm certain that there are ways to incorporate the best concepts. Even if you weren't a camper, I'm sure you can find familiarity in the ideas. These are good reminders for all of us.
Ten Lessons for Living a Good Life, From Camp:
by Paul Sawyer
1. Spend most of every day outdoors, no matter what you have to do, and no matter the weather. Outdoors Every Day. Even in the rain. There is no bad weather at camp. We are meant to be outdoors, especially in the summer. Walk around a good camp even on a rainy day and you’ll see kids and adults outdoors—playing sports, taking swim lessons, hiking, shooting, painting, eating, building fires, dancing and just running around. Your clothes will dry, I promise. Your soul soars outdoors.
2. Swim every day. A corollary of #1 above. In a natural body of water—often in a beautiful clean lake, sometimes in a freezing cold mountain stream, and whenever you can, in the sea. Learn how to swim. Always respect the water. Never freak out about it. Always have a buddy in the water, and a responsible adult watching from the land or a stable boat. If it’s warm enough, you don’t even need a towel. You can drip dry in the sun.
3. Eat every meal sitting down with other people. Thousands of books have been written on the topic of healthy and mindful eating. They could all be replaced by the list of rules in the dining hall at camp. Hold hands for a reading at the beginning. Wait until everyone is served before you start eating. Have a little of everything, even if you don’t like it—especially if it is green. Ask politely for anything you need. Keep the conversation pleasant and focused on the people at your table, not on some TV show you saw, or even some book you read some while ago. Sort the scraps for composting. Clean up all your dishes before you get dessert. Don’t rush. Stay at the table until everyone is done. Then play a quick table game. Then, and only then, go on with the day.
4. Live the truth that everyone can make music, everyone can sing. Recorded music is wonderful. Love your iPod and your collection of old LP’s. But remember that music is something that you create, not something you consume. We spend years at camp re-educating kids who were told at some point by some numbskull (well meaning, I’m sure) that they couldn’t sing. Baloney. All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir. Everybody can sing. Learn songs that speak to you or that just make you laugh. Learn them by heart. Learn an instrument, learn to drum, or just learn to tap your foot in time. And sing, sing, sing!
5. Know that bugles and bells are better markers of the day than clocks. Good camps have real bugles played by real buglers. You don’t wear watches, and there’s no clock in the dining hall. (Maybe I’m biased because I was and am a camp bugler.) The day starts when Reveille plays. It ends with Taps. In between there are calls to meals and activities, for raising and lowering the flag. If bugler oversleeps, everyone oversleeps, and even then, for the most part—does it really matter? It doesn’t. As long as something marks the time we all need to be in the same place. Activities don’t end at 11:45. They end when you hear the bugle call.
6. Write at least one real, handwritten, letter to someone you love every week. ‘Nuff said. The benefits are obvious and sure. Don’t have time? See #9 below.
7. Wear clothes based on what you want to do, not by how they look. I’ve worked at camps with uniforms and without, and I prefer uniforms for all sorts of reasons. But I know not everyone can live with that. So here’s what’s really important. Wear rugged clothes you can get dirty in and that are easy to clean. Wear shoes that you can run around in. Carry a hat and an extra layer all the time. Lightweight long sleeve shirts and pants are way better at keeping off bugs than spray (I never touch the stuff!). Wool and fleece will keep you warm even when they’re wet. Never—never!—decide not to do something fun you want to because you’re worried about your clothes.
8. Cultivate the ability to do what must be done. The ancient Greeks called this phronesis—the ability to do what must be done. It ranges from little things—like picking up trash when you see it by the side of the road, even if it’s inconvenient—to bigger and more important events. One of the most impressive displays of this ability I ever saw was on a long canoe trip with a group of 12-year-old boys. One day it just poured—all day and most of the night. In the morning we leaders woke up early, and were surprised to find a sleeping bag hanging, dripping, from a clothesline that wasn’t there the night before. Turns out in the rain one of the boys had woken up in a puddle in his tent. While he strung a line and hung the wet bag outside, the other 2 boys in the tent pulled their sleeping bags into blankets and the three pulled the two bags together and went back to sleep. They didn’t freak out, and they didn’t even make any noise. “Why didn’t you wake us up to help?” We asked. “Oh, we knew what to do,” they said, without any drama at all, “It was all fine.” That’s phronesis—the ability to do what must be done.
9. Honor Rest Hour as the most sacred and important part of the day. In the true Perfect World, everyone takes an hour off after lunch (how many times do we even take an hour for lunch these days!?). The rules are the same as they are at camp: You don’t have to sleep, but you do have to rest. One hour. On your own bunk. With your shoes off. Doing something restful—napping, writing a letter (see #6), meditating, praying, reading, playing solitaire. One hour. On your bunk. Even if you don’t have time. Especially if you don’t have time.
10. Understand that how you treat other people is more important that what you know how to do. It doesn’t matter at camp how smart you are if you’re a jerk. It doesn’t matter how often you’re right if you’re not willing to help out. No one remembers what you know. Everyone remembers, forever, how you make them feel.