I remember one steamy, hot evening, sitting on the stoop of my inner-city tenement, along with my teen-age friends. We were heavy into conversation with a youth outreach worker when he uttered words that ring clear in my head to this day. "When you feel like garbage," he said about a friend who had just been picked up by the police, "you act like garbage."
In my case and that of many of my friends, family, sports and community organizations such as Boys Clubs bolstered our self-esteem and enabled us to set our goals high. Having just completed a Baltimore Chesapeake Bay Outward Bound minicourse, I again reflected on that social worker's words of wisdom.
Outward Bound is really a series of metaphors for life. Last week I noted that it can teach people about dealing with diversity in our multicultural society.
Embracing diversity is certainly a valuable byproduct of the Outward Bound experience, but it is hardly life-changing. Yet, time and again I've seen and heard Outward Bound alumni speak passionately about how their experiences literally changed their lives. And, these alumni range from inner-
city youth at risk to middle-age mothers.
Why? How can the Outward Bound experience so profoundly affect young and old?
For the record, Outward Bound is physically challenging, but safe. The staff is widely recognized as exceptionally competent, well-trained and fanatical about safety. Yet, the demands placed upon individuals, while coping with weather and other environmental stresses, is enough to stretch anyone's personal comfort envelope. Now, factor in the complicated dynamics of a group, and you have the makings for growth.
More than anything else, Outward Bound teaches lessons in personal excellence. Not the kind you read in books. Not the kind you hear on talk shows or on the lecture circuit. The kind that reveals itself, warts and all, when your group is sailing into a raging rainstorm, you are bailing like mad, you have to go to the bathroom so badly your eyeballs are floating, and you suddenly hear the gut-wrenching sound of the sail tearing. Sometimes you rise to the occasion and sometimes you fail miserably. Either way, you tend to learn a lot about yourself.
MA I've seen juvenile offenders from Boston pleading to be taken
back to incarceration rather than face another frustrating day battling nature. Then, magically, two weeks later, these same young men are changed. They tease and joke. They jump up to help their group members. They listen to each other's suggestions when faced with a difficult task. In short, their chests are swelled with pride. For many, it is their first experience in taking out the garbage.
The Outward Bound motto says it best. "To strive, to serve, and not to yield." Outward Bound combines all three, including a community service component in its longer courses. But, serving can also manifest itself in helping your family and close friends. Attention to the support of those around you, and accepting support from them, is a critical part of Outward Bound.
And there is another important lesson I associate with Outward Bound. That is the dedication to environmental stewardship. Through Outward Bound, many people experience the outdoors for the first time. Outward Bound staffers teach people how to camp, hike, and conduct themselves with minimum impact on the environment.
F: Given what I know and have experienced through Outward
Bound, I'm frustrated by its limited utilization, especially by school systems. I think of the immense problems faced by inner-city youth in Baltimore, youth who are at risk for every social malady we have today. Then I think about the good that Outward Bound experiences could have over the course of his or her young adulthood.
Corporations and universities work with Outward Bound staff to design special experiences for executive team-building. There are even some forward-looking school systems that conduct limited experiences. But, by and large, Outward Bound is an untapped educational resource, with the potential for lessons that transcend knowledge found in books.
Les Picker, a consultant in the field of philanthropy, works with charitable organizations and for-profit companies.