Perspective, Appreciation, and Elephants

Perspective is a strange thing. We had a great evening program we used to use at camp called The Blind Men and the Elephant. I enjoyed it as a camper and enjoyed leading it as a counselor. Then we heard back from our campers in our 2014 survey that it was the worst evening program we had – after a summer where we hadn’t run it a single time. There were around 100 responses, and the “Which evening program did you dislike the most?” questions was write in – ten kids or so wrote down Blind Men, one or two picked other activities, and the other 85 or so respondents left that blank or said they liked them all. Boy did that result change my perspective about the activity.

In Blind Men, we learn that each person sees things their own way, and it’s impossible (or very unlikely) for any two people to experience the same event in the same way. This is a great lesson for children and adults, as everything from road rage to unintentional micro-aggressions are often a result of a lack of empathy or perspective. But I digress – I brought up perspective to talk about a lesson I learned in the Dominican Republic that went a step farther than The Blind Men and the Elephant.

I learned in Derrumbadero how quickly your perspective can change. In my first week in the village, I quickly settled into a routine. The food was simple and delicious. Breakfast was a pair of boiled eggs and a few buns. Lunch was a giant plate of rice and beans, a few days a week there’d also be with tough-as-nails chicken chunks. Dinner was half a dozen steamed green bananas with a pair of fried eggs and some onions on top.

Then in my second week in the village we had a group of volunteers arrive. And boy did I think their food was luxurious. There was sliced bread. There was peanut butter and marmalade. There were vegetables, and even some papaya! There was a trash can… and it had a bag in it! There was anti-bacterial soap to wash your hands, and even a towel to dry them after. All of these things made me so excited. I just kept smiling and laughing and the group liked me right away because I seemed like a really happy guy.

I kept thinking about my perspective and it really helped me throughout the next eight weeks in the village. I never came to like the bucket showers, as pouring a coffee tin of cold water on your head is unpleasant every time. But I quickly grew to tolerate them, and always enjoyed how fresh I felt after. I have been home for two weeks now and every time I turn on the tap and water comes out, I do a little happy dance.

We got rid of The Blind Men and the Elephant as an activity. I launched a campaign to design a bunch more evening programs to add to our program. The kids loved the new activities and I am confident that they had a better summer in 2015 and 2016 because of the improvements. But my experiences in the DR made me realize further how important it is that we have and do things that are hard and not as fun. It gives us a better appreciation for things that are wonderful. Those kids don’t get to have “evening activities” during the rest of the year, so they will always appreciate how much fun they get to have at camp. The better we can make it, the more it will be appreciated. On the same token, our educational evening programs help give our campers a sense of their social and ethical place in the world. We can and should try to make those activities fun. More important is to help them show campers a different perspective, because if my time in the Dominican Republic is any indication, your perspective can change very quickly if given the right stimulus.

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