Re: Push-ups and Hazing, etc.
Ian N Ford FRSH (addvent@DIRCON.CO.UK)
Fri, 24 Jul 1998 05:56:09 +0100
I think we are coming at this issue from two different perspectives. To
some extent we have oour own emotional baggage. I was bullied as a Scout.
You may have read some of my other posts. Basically I was one of those
bright, non-athletic kids who gets picked on. Add to that some minor
disabilities such as asthma, being blind in one eye and AD/HD. I had
problems with activities involving coordination or visual-spatial
relationships, so things like knotting, map reading etc. took
One ASM was a particular problem. He was very much into physical activity,
one of the " make men of them " school. His form of " encouragement "
was to shout louder. He was not, is not, a bad person. He is just
insensitive and his world view does not recognise that others may not
enjoy the things he enjoys, or find difficult what he finds easy.
My initiation into the troop involved being covered in mud and thrown
into cold water. Because of the stress and the colness of the water I
hyperventilated and had to be dragged out, and spent several hours
recovering. What I experienced was physical and psychological abuse,
condoned and in part encouraged by a Leader who was not a bad person.
It was just that his idea of Scouting was to convert wimps into action
men. He used much the same arguments you do, about push-ups being good
physical exercise. He was a rule-oriented, black/white yes/no type of
person, no shades of grey. It was his way or the wrong way, and the wrong
way got punished.
I vowed that if I ever became a Leader I would not permit any other kid
to go through the same experience that I had done. So there are some emotive
hot buttons in your original post for me personally. The fact that more
than thirty years later I still feel anger at the thought of this guy
demonstrates the impact it had on me.
Let me try to explain my philosophy. I start from the premise that
Scouting is about developing young people. It is a voluntary activity,
and the boys and girls choose to come. It is their program, and the
adults roles are to advise, guide and supervise rather than direct.
I am a Scout Leader not a Scout Master. A Master implies power over a
suibordinate, a Leader is one of team performing a role. I believe this
is more than semantics.
To take some of the examples we have touched upon ... talking out of turn.
I would not " punish " a kid. I would stop talking and let peer pressure
operate. I might say somethinmg like " If you allow me to finish you
will have time to talk later. " Usually that is sufficient.
The kid who did not do the dishes ... making him swap rotas is not, in my
opinion, punishment. We are a community with mutual rights and
obligations, and that involves routine chores. If you do not carry out
your obligations for whatever reason you owe a debt to your colleagues,
and that is redeemed by doing them at a later time. If he still refuses
then we would talk about rights and responsibilities, and what is
entailed in living as part of a group. To my way of thinking punishment
is part of a mind set which sees things in terms of rules rather than
obligations, and puts the locus of authority outside the individual with
the Scout MASTER. For some kids it is far easier to look for rules than to
work things out on the basis of values. If a kids asks " Am I allowed to
.... " I try not to answer straight away, but top get him or her to think
of the consequences ( yes, that word again ) of that action. Obviously
if there are safety or other issues I have to use adult judgement and say no,
but I try to explain why.
That leads to " Time Out " ... I am aware that sometimes we all get
involved in an activity and this can lead to personality clashes. As
Leader I see my role in monitoring the process ... and sometimes that
involves calling an individual to order if his bahaviour is going beyond
the group norms. Usually a reminder of the values ( I am trying to
avoid the word rules ) is sufficient. Sometimes, however, it is not.
Time out takes the individual from the group and allows him to calm down
or whatever. I make sure that I am referencing the behaviour, not making
judgements about the individual. " We do not allow physical violence in
this troop " as opposed to " You are being naughty in hitting him ".
I am breaking the behaviour by removing the individual from the context
in which the behaviour arises.
It is far more easy to have a list of rules and sanctions. However, I
believe that we are only truly human when we have autonomy and what
Maslow described as "self-actualization " ... in other words, when
individuals act out of a sense of values rather than slvishly following
the rules laid down by an external Authority. In the final analysis we are
talking about the difference between, if not democracy and dictatorship,
then at least an organisation where kids feel ownership and one where
they are alienated. I have found that ownership and participation build up
a sense of group loyalty and we get very few " discipline problems ".
I get very concerned when people talk about twenty page " discipline
policies " or ask categorical questions such as " Is is hazing if ..."
and expect an answer " on page 23 paragra[ph 3b it says ... " I believe that
we have brains to solve problems, and that means working out our actions
in terms of values and beliefs, not looking to a " book of rules ".
Someone said that " rules are for the blind obedience of fools and the
guidance of wise men. " Heck, if you guys followed the rules all the time
you would still be Colonists. ( Well, at least I wouldn't need a visa then
I saw a book the other day called " Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway " ...
I will have to get a copy, apparently it is quite good. Someone talked
about confidence building, and getting up in front of groups. That is a
very common fear ; I was at a stress management course for health
professionals, and several psychologists and therapists said that they
get very stressed when asked to give talks or presentations. I think that
one thing we can do to help kids self-confidence is to provide the
opportunity to talk / sing / demonstrate to a group ... but again, I
emphasise preparation as part of that process. There is a world of
difference between planning a campfire skit or presentation and preparing
it, and having to do something cold. In my job I am often called upon to
present something with minimal preparation, but I know that I have that
ability because I have done it so many times. The Course Director calls
up on the morning of SMF and says one of the instructors has gone sick
will I take his session ... no problem. But I try not to forget that my
level of competence has taken years to build up ... my first public
speaking was probably reading the lesson at Church Parade as a Wolf Cub in
District Committee Member, Channel District, transatlantic Council BSA
ADC(AT) & Special Needs Adviser, Greenwich District Scout Council
Ian N. Ford DMS AIHE FRSH
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