Nov 16

Questionable ethics of being too outcome-focused: How I got American teenagers 2 REALLY like the Pledge

In the summer of 1982, through  BUNACAMP, I worked as a camp counselor at Camp Sebago on Lake Sebago in the beautiful state of Maine, Camp Sebago was a Salvation Army camp offering one week summer breaks for kids who probably wouldn't otherwise manage to get a vacation. Together with a fellow Brit, I was in charge of the cabin for the oldest boys - typically aged 13 - 15. From the horror stories I heard from other British students who had spent the same summer at 'posh' camps for relatively rich kids, I was very, very lucky to have had this experience! Over the two months of camp, the majority of boys and kids loved it, and I very much enjoyed the experience, as well as making lots of great American friends among the staff - sadly, due in part perhaps to the lack of our current speedy communications, most of whom I lost touch with long ago.

Among other things, in my time there, I learned how important size is for Americans when it comes to food! Staff snacks in the evening ... would never have been deemed a 'snack' in Britain! I've never seen pizzas soooo big! And, as for the 'tubs' of ice cream ... forget 'tubs' ... think 'buckets'!

So, on with this particular (very true) tale .... One group of boys in our 'big boy' cabin thought they were way too cool and way too old for some of the daily activities - and, of course, this is where my current tale truly begins!

Now, being a Sally Army camp, daily life was quite regimented. After breakfast every day, all staff and kids had to gather ceremoniously around the flag pole for the ritual raising of the American flag and the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance. We Brits, while having to be there, were excused said Pledge for obvious reasons, I guess. On one level, I was disappointed as i loved to listen to that Pledge - the essence of being American, the focus on liberty and justice for all very much appealed to my youthful mind. it is important to remember that for what follows ....!

That particular cabin of overly 'cool' boys really didn't want to be uncool and have to say the Pledge, and I'm sure in part, they were inspired by the fact that we Brits didn't have to open our mouths! However, when the cabin of oldest boys is so openly rebellious... something had to be done! My colleague and I were called into the Camp Director's office and told, in no uncertain terms, to 'do something' about our boys!

So, we gathered our boys together in the cabin and started to talk with them about the failed Pledges. One of their retorts was along the lines of ... 'but you don't do it'. And, there were definitely some 'F*** the pledge' responses too! At this point, as it turns out, I hit on what turned out to be a moment of rare inspiration ... certainly if we are 'outcome focused'! I explained to the boys that we didn't have to say their 'stupid pledge' as we were British, we had a Queen, thousands of years more rich history then they had ...we didn't need to promise anything to a stupid flag etc etc ...

Anyway ... next day, our boys didn't say the Pledge. They shouted it! They slapped their hands very firmly on their proud American chests and shouted out the pledge very vehemently. Had there been such a thing as a smart phone in 1982, I would definitely have taken a video! The Camp Director was so surprised and indeed pleased at this exceptionally positive outcome that he called us back into his office and praised us for the result, and of course asked us what we had said. At this point, we gave a very British low-key response .. 'Oh, we had a word with them, sir'.

And, i guess, that is one way a Brit can get an American teenager to really feel American!! It probably also goes to show that .. there are surely ethical limitations to being too outcome-focused!

Share on Facebook

Leave a Reply