Friday, January 30, 2015


I want to share with you a passage with you that I wrote earlier last year. In it, I was writing about the summer camp experiences many of us went through in childhood. Some of us have wanted to pass that tradition down to our own children.

As I wrote,

The theories long-propagated by organizers of summer camps promise the comforting nature of steady, close contact of one’s peers. They envision the sort of constant, positive interaction which produces lifelong friends and connections for later in life. It is true that you might meet a handful of fast friends there, formerly complete strangers, with whom you will stay in touch forever. Or you may not.

These experiences provide, far too often, an underwhelming result that doesn't particularly hold up in reality. Parents of students seek to outdo themselves, ensuring that their children have the best camp and vacation experience possible, but in seeking perfection, they overlook a particular blind spot. It is one they miss themselves in the midst of the clutter and details that passes for life.

One crucial distinction cannot be corrected by programming alone. Here is what usually happens. The close proximity of to each camper to another often facilitates superficially close relationships, for only for a time. Few open up with secrets usually guarded and concealed; it is a risk-averse tactic that usually creates distance in the end, not unity.

From a psychological standpoint, the fear of transparency, either as a child or as an adult, eventually pushes people away from each other. Friendships made in camp or, later in life, in conference, usually stay there and do not leave. During our adult life we copy the same superficially intimate, but mostly evasive patterns.

Thoughtful organizers make sure to give us e-mail lists and phone numbers, to better facilitate forming the friendships and acquaintances sparked by weeks, perhaps even months of common purpose. And yet, few pick up the phone or type e-mails with the intention of keeping in touch with a bunk-mate or a partner during a workshop. I cannot understand why. What are we afraid of, really?

Keeping ourselves protected from some perceived slight makes us islands. Our politeness is often surface alone and we may feel we have to compartmentalize our life, forming invisible laws and rules about who we trust to be a friend. The moment we do that, we prevent community from forming. Boundaries like these are problematic, even if they seem to make sense at first.

As adults, we can generate lots of excuses. Work is too busy. I volunteer for a particular cause. I just don’t have the time. These are excuses, and they seem plausible enough, so we buy them. The most perceptive of us know that they’re likely only lies or at least half-truths. We claim we don’t have a need for more friends, because that might upset the house of cards lifestyle we’ve been living. I believe that we must form loving communities in order to make the world function as it should. This idea is not new. Many people well before my time have discussed and championed the same basic ideas I’m advancing here, concepts first articulated well before the day I was born.

The concerns of children are easier to excuse. Lacking driver’s licenses, their mobility is restricted. Every year they are congregated into classes with the same teachers and the same students. They’re constantly forming friendships at school or avoiding them, and so camp is just an extension of the other nine months of the year. They have much to teach us, or, failing that, our own past could serve as an instructive lesson.

Adults in the work world might be required to attend a conference or a professional development seminar, but it’s not the same. The focus is on work, not on socialization. This is a shame, now that we are busy enough and engaged on what we think matters to leave no room in our lives for friendship.

We keep talking about peace. Peace to me is built upon mutual trust and understanding. It is based on real relationships where two or more people are not overly preoccupied with the supposed priorities of their lives. This process requires vulnerability and not needing to chase someone down. This is the very same vulnerability I have been carping about for years. I don’t think that we’re thoughtless people or rude people. I think instead that we’re easily distracted and quick to confuse what ought to be our true priorities.


"Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

No comments: