What’s Important

They had done it. All were in line. The most important one in the front.

I have mentioned, in previous posts, my relationship with the Boy Scouts of America at a Scout Camp fondly remembered as Thunder Ridge. While working there, one of the job titles I held was C.O.P.E. Director. At the time I took the job I had no idea what C.O.P.E. was or that it was an acronym and stood for Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience. What does that even mean? Well, it basically means that you—as a person—are gonna have some personal growth. Also, your Troup (or group) is gonna have some personal growth—together.

When I took the job I wasn’t looking forward to it at all. I didn’t know what it was or how I was going to make it work. The drive to the camp for my training is literally a whole ‘nother story. Still, after everything was said and done, being the C.O.P.E. Director at Thunder Ridge was one of the best things I have very been blessed to be a part of.

Many of you, dear readers, have probably participated in a C.O.P.E. or C.O.P.E.-like course before. I had too, I just didn’t know it at the time. A C.O.P.E. course is one of those obstacle course kind of events where you work together, as a team, to accomplish a goal. One of the popular games has a person blindfolded and another person guides them to a location (maybe it is all done without spoken words, or only using words—no hands on). Some popular events entail getting all the team members from one point to another while nobody touches the ground and you have a limited set of resources to help you accomplish the goal. The one that most people know is the Trust Fall. The one where you blindly fall backward into the open arms of your team and hope they don’t drop you onto the ground.

If these explanations are not very clear, it’s alright. They aren’t meant to be. Yes, you read that correctly. They are not meant to. This post isn’t about all those events. It is about one event, and what it did.

C.O.P.E., when done properly, helps an individual to grow and become a better person (in some way, and to varying degrees of ‘better’). It can also do the same for a team. It is a very popular corporate-sponsored retreat for their employees, to help a group function more as a unit and care about each other. It can quickly expose weaknesses as well as identify strengths. The program is very impressive—again, if done properly.

At any rate, in an ideal situation, a group of people have an opportunity to get exposed to events over a series of days. Thus allowing team members to learn more about themselves, put those discoveries into action, then reinforce the truth about that knowledge—those discoveries—with harder, more challenging events. It is tons of fun! However, I didn’t have days to run my course. I had a couple hours. The idea was to introduce young Scouts to what C.O.P.E. was, so when they got older, they would want to do more of it at another camp that was relegated to only those such events. I was perfectly fine with doing my part to accomplish this goal.

So, I would have Troops for about an hour. The time would fly by so quickly. Still, in order to make assessments about the group’s strengths and weaknesses, they had to have the introductory games. These could be all kinds of fun activities that helped get muscles warmed up, joints looseded, and minds alert. One of my personal favorites was Order of Importance.

Order of Importance is really quite simple. The instructions are simple. I, or one of my staff, would tell the group of boys, “Put yourselves in order of importance.” Then, we would step back and watch what happens. If they asked for clarity, none would be forthcoming, except maybe a smile and a repetition of the instructions spoken the exact same way as before, “Put yourselves in order of importance.”

This brought about all manner of fun. The boys would start telling each other what to do, followed by their own conflicting instructions, some chaos, and eventually, a response to our instruction—an end result. The typical completion of the task had the boys in a line. When asked, “Why?” the responses would vary. Usually, it was, “We don’t know.” To which my staff or myself would ask, “So, are you done?” The group would look at each other, with even more confused looks upon their faces, and try again.

With each completion, the question would always get asked, “Are you done?” It was—I am sure—maddening for the group. Still, in the end, there was always a circle. When asked, “Why a circle?” the answers would vary but ultimately be something like, “Because we are all important.” Nice.

See, the result didn’t matter. Ever. It was the reason for the choice that mattered, thus the final question of, “Are you done?” If they were done—regardless of result—we would move on with more games, having gained valuable insight into the group. And yet, when the group comes to the decision that they are all important, the dynamic within changes, as well as their interactions. They always became better. Closer. More caring about each other.

It always happened that way. Always.

Except one time.

Once, as the group moved about, whispering to each other about how they were going to do it, they showed part of their hand. You could see the youth leaders of the troop making decisions for the rest of the group—without the group. The group just kinda stood about, trying to figure out what to do. Then, those youth leaders began to execute their plan. Now, when these things would occur, my staff and I would begin to think of ways to turn the result around. How could we get them to rethink their idea, without letting them know we want them to second guess themselves? That is not easy, trying to guess every possible outcome and find a way to undo it.

Finally, they were in the typical straight line—most boys not knowing why they were where they were in the line—so, we asked our typical question, “Why the line?” Of course, we already knew the answer. We had heard them all before. And yet, we were not prepared for this one: “Because,” the Senior Patrol Leader began, “I’m the Senior Patrol Leader, these are my Patrol Leaders, followed by…” with each listing, he would point to the boy he was talking about. It appeared that the youth leaders fancied themselves the most important.

“So, are you telling us, that you are the most important, at that end, and this kid at this end is the least?” As I made my pronouncement, pointing to those I was describing, I couldn’t hide the knowing smirk on my face. I was ready to humble this arrogant fourteen-year-old know-it-all.

“No, I’m the least important,” came his completely unexpected—albeit, very confident—response. I did not see that one coming. Who would have?

“Explain.” See, part of running a good C.O.P.E. Course is understanding the people. Letting the group explore themselves and share. Help draw lessons out for the participants to see. Lessons learned in a nonjudgmental environment (ironically, in order to do that I had to always be judgemental).

“I’m the Senior Patrol Leader because I’ve been here the longest. We’re in order from the most experienced to the least. So, he’s the most important because he’s the newest. He needs our help and guidance to learn. He’s the one we should all be looking out for the most. He’s the most important.” As he explained the rationale, the other boys in the troop nodded in agreement. It was decided, that the smallest, youngest, newest member of the troop was the most important.

“So, you all agree with this?” I asked. The troop nodded their assent. All except the little one at the end, the one in the front. It was clear he didn’t know what to make of it all. This was one of those teaching moments. One of those learning moments—for everyone. I walked up to the youth at the end, leaned into his face, and spoke, “They all just said that you’re the most important member of their troop. How does that make you feel?”

You could see the connections in his mind being made as a smile began. “Pretty good.” Behind him, the entire troop quietly smiled too. They had done good. Very good. Very, very good.

Just so you know, there is no real correct answer. The ‘best answer’ is the circle, because, everyone is important. Everyone is needed. Everyone has value. However, the reason why a group (or person) comes to a decision might be even better (more valuable) than the actual decision, or even the result of said decision. But, in order for that to happen, a person has to be in a ‘learning place’—even if that person is you, the teacher. That Boy Scout Troop taught me that. I’ve never forgotten that lesson.

I watched that troop throughout the rest of the week. That ‘Most Important’ boy was even more excited and worked harder than ever. His troop also worked hard at helping him know what to do and when to do it. They truly understood what was most important: Each other.

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