November 12, 2006

Training Regimen

I've been brainwashed. For nearly my whole life, my mind has been subjected to a training regimen of which I have only recently become aware.

It has mostly taken place through media such as television. From some of the sitcoms I watched as a child, I learned that sarcasm and put-downs are funny. A little more recently, I've learned from reality shows that it's OK to stab your neighbor in the back in order to succeed. Life is just a game, after all. And always, there are the advertisements, which taught me that, to be a better person, I needed to have a certain “look,” and that I needed to own certain products.

I never thought of it as training. In fact, I didn't think of it much at all. When I did, I'd tell myself that it's just a show; harmless entertainment. However, somewhere in my mind, messages were being written down: “put-downs are funny;” “sarcasm is entertaining;” “backstabbing is OK to win.” Then, without even realizing it, I began to live out what I'd learned. In doing so, I discovered (the hard way) that put-downs are not funny in the real world. Sarcasm is not entertaining. And one of the worst things a person could do, I discovered, is stab a friend in the back.

I might not have ever come to this realization were it not for a different type of training that I was also receiving. Every Sunday morning I went to church. Sometimes I even went to church on Sunday or Wednesday night. At church, I learned to love. I was taught that God is love. I was trained in the ways of kindness.

There was also scouting. Scouting trained me to be loyal, honest, and friendly. My experiences in scouts imprinted in my mind that it is better to be helpful than to be a backstabber, and that it's better to work together as a team than it is to win at all costs.

The messages I received from scouting and from church were filed away in my mind, sometimes right next to contradictory messages I had received from the media. “Love your neighbor as yourself” went right next to “Insult your neighbor, because it's funny.” “Help other people at all times” landed right next to “Use others as stepping stones to get to the top.” “Duty to God and country” slid in next to “It's all about me.”

To some extent, I kept the training I was receiving from church and scouting a secret. That's because it conflicted with the training received from mainstream culture, and wasn't considered “cool” by the kids at school. My scouting friends and I wouldn't dare mention scouts while we were at school, for fear of being ridiculed. Our involvement in scouts was a well-kept secret.

As a result, our classmates had no idea that, in addition to the training we received, we were having fun. Lots of it! At least once a month, we'd go on an overnight trip, which more often than not involved backpacking into some remote wilderness. Other times we went rock climbing, tubing or canoeing down a river, or snorkeling on Catalina. We also visited air force bases; I remember the view from the control tower at Edwards Air Force Base, and seeing the rocket launch pads at Vandenberg.

Each summer, we'd spend a week in the wilderness, hiking fifty miles or more. Our trips took us along the John Muir Trail, to the tops of many peaks, including Lassen, Half Dome, and Mount Whitney, and to dozens of alpine lakes. In addition to the adventure such trips provided, they also gave me much time to think, to ponder, to sort through the different messages filed away in my mind, and to discern which of those messages were right for me, and right for my world.

To this day, my best friends are the friends I met in scouts. We get together whenever we can, to catch up on life and share stories. Of the four of us who have remained particularly close, all of us achieved Eagle Scout. And every so often, we still venture into the wilderness for a few days.

Scouting is just one of a number of excellent youth organizations active in my community. I don't know about you, but I find hope in knowing that there are still places in this world where young people receive positive, character-building messages.

This essay also appears in the November South Sutter Connection, a local, monthly newspaper.

1 comment:

Anita said...

Nice parallels between goofy TV shows and learning poor humor!

Even better to read how much Scouting did for you - I hope Ginger mentioned to you that Dylan passed his Board of Review for Eagle and it's official!

I think Scouting is really 'sticking' with him ... he asked to be an Assistant Scoutmaster in his Troop!

Take Care!