Are You Willing to Do What I Do?

I remember the day one of the other teachers said; “Wow, you guys are really arrogant”. I just smiled and replied that actually I was tired, and if he knew what I knew about the past week, he might understand where I was coming from, although truth be told I probably said something like, “Get out of my face, I’m too tired to listen to your crap”. Oh well.

I’d just rejected the schools request to let him go on our next trip, which was supposed to be some sort of reward for his hard work in the classroom. What did he think this was, Club Med? The school’s owner didn’t even want this program in the first place and on the advice of friends—one a lawyer and the other a judge, had told us we’d need to take full responsibility for anything bad that happened. In the simplest of terms she was saying; "You can run "your" program, but listen carefully, I don't have your back". We had to actually sign-off on this or there wouldn’t be a program. We explained that all parents of participants would sign permission slips, but the schools attorney informed us they’d be useless, and wouldn’t afford us any real protection. This left Brad and me with few options if we wanted to develop and run, a high-impact wilderness experiential education program, to help affect real change in these troubled adolescents.

So we signed off on taking full responsibility, used the permission slips to start our campfires, and worked hard at developing and running a safe program.

I suppose I could have been a kinder and gentler person to the staff member that day who accused the two of us of being arrogant, and maybe he was right, but he wasn’t asking me to let him go to lunch with us, or let him go to the beach and make sand castles. He was asking us to do one of two things; to either let him be part of the solution on our next trip, or part of the problem.  

 I was once told by a trainer in a different field that “The purpose of arrogance is to let those whom you do not really value anyway know that you are better than them at a certain activity or in character. Acting arrogant he said, is a straightforward solution that has an almost immediate effect. Although it is of course, antithetical to the point of getting along with your fellow human beings, but it is a choice you sometimes need to make”. This for me, said it all.

I was a lot nicer to him the following week when I found myself in the principal’s office with him, and our chat went a little like this;

Do you know what hypothermia looks like?

Do you understand, if we hike two days into the wilderness and someone breaks their leg, it will still take at least two days to walk back out?

Can you function on three or four hours sleep and still help run a safe program?

Can you live in the same clothes for a week, because you’ll be required to make room in you backpack for a lot of team gear?

Are you willing to carry an 80lb. pack without complaining?

When a kid “looses it” in the mountains, are you willing to do whatever it takes to get him to “unloose it”?

Can you deal with these snot-nosed rangers 24/7 and enjoy it?

Can you live for a week with no personal time?

Do you know how to cross a ridgeline when the wind's howling, the map notation says, "dangerous in high winds, crossing not recommended" we can't stay where we are, and we can't go back?

Are you willing to cross that ridgeline?

Will you be able to handle being stuck in a lightning storm with no place to hide?

Are you willing and able to deal with any emergency that comes along, so we can exit the woods at the end of the trip with the same number of kids we entered with?

And lastly, would you be willing to sign on the dotted line that you’ll be held responsible and liable, for anything that might happen, just like Brad and I have signed off ?

The answers to all the questions, was yes except for the last one, and that was the last time I was asked if I’d let another staff member go, or as I put it, allow another staff member to put their money where their mouth was, to go “a romping” thru the woods with us. However, we did have to agree to run a staff trip, and guess what, that particular staff member decided not to go. I rest my case.