Sunday, September 8, 2013

I See... When Losing is Winning


Scoutmaster Bob of Troop 9900 knew that troop member Billy Beewhyew was well… let’s just say… “different.”  He initially seemed “normal,” but he often shunned interacting with other scouts, and when he did, the results could be politely described as less than optimal. Billy’s ideas, hopes, and dreams were just a little bit off. Scoutmaster Bob struggled with finding approaches and opportunities that would encourage Billy to enjoy positive, healthy relations with the other scouts.

One  such scenario started to unfold the last night of scout camp. After a straight week of blistering 100-degree plus temperatures, all members of Troop 9900 were glad that three hours of thunderous rain had drenched our campsite. Billy, however, was different; he wanted to do the impossible and build a campfire.  All of the other scouts (and the adult leaders too, although it would have been inappropriate for them to express it) thought he was crazy and told him so.

Troop 9900 adult leaders had been trained to never point blank turn down a scout request (unless it was dangerous and/or life threatening) to pursue an original idea or activity, but instead to persuade, instruct and inspire them to make rational, right choices.  Hence Scoutmaster Bob skillfully tried to reason with Billy about the futility of his request; all combustible material in and around camp was thoroughly soaked, and it was too dark and late at night, etc., but Billy would have none it. Finally, out of a degree of frustration, and with the intent of bullying him into abandoning his impossible dream, Scoutmaster Bob, employing an abnormally threatening, oppressive tone of voice, issued him a challenge that probably violated all proven rules of positive youth governance and scout leadership protocol: “Billy, I’m so certain that I’m right about this that I’ll bet you 100 dollars that you can not successfully build a fire under these circumstances!”

The intent of this challenge was to push Billy to make his own decision not to attempt this task. Because Billy was different, however, it had the opposite effect- he proceeded to be filled with a sense of drive and purpose at a level rarely experienced in the life of a scout- come hell or high water, he… would… build…this… campfire.

The next 90 minutes can only be described as transformational.  He reached out of his narrow comfort zone and enlisted the help of several other scouts who usually avoided him. He dug deep into a previously locked reserve of scout knowledge, and drew on the skills of several other scouts with promises of  a cut of the 100 dollar reward. Scoutmaster Bob had never seen Billy so animated and driven to accomplish a task. They scoured the campsite and the surrounding hillside for pockets of dry, combustible material.  They focused all of their energies on nursing a collection of puny, struggling, flickering flames into a full-blown campfire producing massive doses of heat and light.  Formally confident Scoutmaster Bob was now scared- would he actually have to make good on his bet?

90 minutes later a healthy, bustling campfire lit up the center of Troop 9900’s campsite  with dancing flames.  Young Scouts, led by the usually awkward Billy, danced triumphantly around the fire like excited Indian warriors celebrating a victory. They bragged about where and how they would spend their new-found wealth. Scoutmaster Bob was humbled and out of 100 dollars. He had lost and Billy had won.

Scoutmaster Bob quickly realized, however, that he had successfully motivated Billy to engage in a positive, character building experience that won him the respect and friendship of his fellow scouts, and he wondered- technically he had lost the bet, but had he won something more valuable in return?

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