Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Dangers of Age, Ignorange & Arrogance: Lessons from Scout Camp

OK, it's been ten days since I've written anything. I've been away at Scout Camp with very limited email and Internet access (which feels really funny to say; up until two years ago I'd never had email or Internet at a Scout Camp, but I guess the times they are a changing :) ).

Some of the most humbling and compelling lessons that I can take into my daily testing walk often come to me in Scout Camp experiences, and this week was no exception. Without naming names, I learned a parallel that I can apply to my testing, and maybe you can to.

Let me set the stage... me and three additional adult leaders spent July 2nd through July 9th shepherding around and tracking 17 boys between the ages of 11 and 15 at Camp Hi Sierra in the middle Sierra Nevada mountains. Camp Hi Sierra is located about 30 miles east of the town of Sonora, at roughly 5300 feet of elevation. Our Troop is in San Bruno, CA which is at sea level. There are some realities that come with spending a week away from air conditioning, regular beds, and standard modern conveniences, and we actively encourage the boys to do things that will make them the most comfortable and function effectively. These are simple things like "drink lots of water (and if you think you are drinking enough, drink more, because you are not), wear plenty of insect repellent, and make sure to stretch and keep yourself limber, because it's easy to get injured in the mountains when you are not used to the elevation".

Every year, we have boys that come up with us who are newcomers to Scouting and Scout Camp. Often those newcomers are 11 year olds, and often they are older. You'd think that the ones who would be most susceptible to not listening to what they are told and who would get in trouble would be the younger inexperienced scouts. My experience over 18 years has proven this is not so. In fact, it is usually the older, inexperienced scouts that get themselves into trouble.

In the past several years, most of the injuries we have had to treat have been with boys 14 and older who have little to no experience with Scouting or camping. The younger scouts, when we tell them to do something, are pretty compliant and do what we ask them to. The older scouts, not so much. They think they have a handle on things, and that they know what they are doing, even when often, they don't. There's a macho component at play here. The older boys often don't want to admit that they are inexperienced, and consider it shameful to have to be at the level of an 11 year old who's never been on a camp out before, let alone away at Summer Camp. So invariably, these are the ones who say they are drinking enough water, but aren't. These are the ones who say they are putting on sufficient sun block and insect repellent, but aren't. These are the ones that say they are doing what they need to do to keep limber and stretched, but again, aren't. They know what they need to do. They are smarter than their adult leaders, and anyway, give it a rest guys, we're fine!

Well, for one of those boys, this act of "we're fine" led to chronic fatigue, dehydration, a multitude of insect bites, and back spasms so bad that we had to call an ambulance and have him taken to Sonora Regional Medical Center, and have his father come up and take him home six days into camp. He missed the last day of camp, missed the chance to complete two of his merit badges, and missed the opportunity to participate in camp wide games, the closing campfire and all of the other fun things that go with the closing days of Summer Camp. Fortunately, I saw him at our Troop meeting last night, looking much better, in brighter spirits, and a little more humble and teachable. He'd seen first hand that his attitude of being older, and how the combination of Ignorance and Arrogance, had worked against him. I think he'll be much more willing to learn from his leaders now, and quite possibly the younger scouts in his Troop as well.

I promised a testing tie in, so here it is. I find it rare that a junior tester or a young tester exhibits the combination of Ignorance and Arrogance. Ignorance, yes, but they understand they are ignorant, and are willing and looking forward to curing that issue as quickly and as effectively as they can. In truth, they are not the ones we should be worried about. It's the longer tenured, supposedly more experienced testers that are the ones in real danger. We often act as though we are above it all, that we've put our time in just by virtue of being in the industry. We often fail to realize that our skill set is based on the context of which we are used to working. Tools that work in one place do not often work in others, and we are occasionally blindsided by the fact that, what we though were skills that would serve us always, in all situations, often don't. We find ourselves (often in clutch situations) the equivalent of the sunburned, bug bitten, dehydrated and muscle spasming scout, unable to be effective when we most need to (and often really want to be).

So today, I encourage everyone to stop and look at their current surroundings. Get a feeling for what your testing environment and kit needs to be, not just what you and your experience think it ought to be. Confer with a mentor to make sure that you really understand the tools that you should be using, and don't be embarrassed that, just because you are a seasoned vet, that you may have a lot to learn. Also, don't be embarrassed that the role models and examples you may learn from may be those junior testers who have heeded the call and have worked hard to be current and focused on current ideas and approaches. By doing so, we all can make sure that our Age, Ignorance and Arrogance don't conspire to bring us to our knees, but can be mitigate and even transcended as we get better at the core things we need to be instinctively good at.
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