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Every morning, we have gatherings for the middle to older campers. On the girls side, they call it Roundup, on the boys side, we call it Flag Raising. [Note: this continues a trend at camp where the girls have more creative names than guys. On the boys side, we have “best cabinmate”, the girls call it the “hinge award”. “Venus of the Bay” vs “Lake Swim Winner”. When we bought the camp, the girls had “Spirit of the Torch” while the boys had “Most Outstanding Camper”. The boys now say, “Bearer of the Torch”, but we clearly drift toward more literal names – hence “flag-raising”.]

At Flag Raising, we celebrate birthdays, describe the schedule for the day and share random facts or jokes. The idea is to get everyone together for a fresh start in the morning, rather than have sleepy zombies slowly stroll into breakfast.

At Roundup, Susie Ma’am has a formal “Thought of the Day”. [Note: my “thoughts” are randomly interjected throughout the session – Susie Ma’am is more economical with her words.] One of her favorites is “Always assume that everyone is trying to do their best”.

This was also a favorite of my mother. She said it was exhausting to assume malice in others. It makes you a little paranoid and a lot angry. Sure, there are some malevolent individuals, but the vast majority are trying to be good, moral people. Perhaps they have different priorities. Maybe they have perfect priorities and bad strategies. But they ARE trying to tilt the scales of the world toward “being better” rather than “being worse”.

As I think about this idea, the last year or so really comes to mind.

I do not think I have ever seen more anger and frustration in my lifetime. I see it on cable TV, in newspapers, at the grocery store and even between friends. I think that the challenges of the pandemic have eroded our “emotional brake pads” and made us more anxious and more frustrated.

Combine our worn brake pads with a media environment that amplifies outrage, and we have a recipe for strained interactions.

Earlier this summer, I wrote a blog that observes that this summer at camp, everything is MORE. The highs are higher. Campers have never been happier to be outside, with friends and without devices. But the lows are lower. Campers are more likely to be shy, anxious, frustrated or even angry than in a normal year. Losing a year of socialization has real impacts and we are seeing them here. [Note: I reposted that blog today for you to read.]

I share all of this because I want to believe that your child’s time here at camp is a healing time. It might not be as easy or carefree as a typical summer, but it is more important.

I know I have never seen more growth at camp. Most kiddos have some residual effects of the past 18 months, some have a lot. But we can see them becoming more relaxed and “typical” as the terms stretch on. Please do not think I am suggesting camp is a panacea and that all will be perfect upon return, but I do deeply believe that our campers’ experiences are better preparing them for a return to normalcy (or some version of normalcy) in the fall.

In the meantime, I want to extol us all to embrace the belief that everyone is trying to do their best.

I personally am striving to give people grace, or “courteous goodwill”. When I find myself prone to judgement of someone else, I want to focus on my shared humanity with that person and not our disparate opinions or emotional states.

Frankly, it is not easy. It seems just a little easier these days to default to recriminations, blame or judgement. It even makes us feel superior. But it wears on our hearts over time. Sure, I can decide that the person who cut me off on the highway is an embodiment of evil – or at least a vastly inferior driver – or I can allow the possibility that they have an urgent appointment or emergency. This might not be true, but I deeply believe that taking this view helps me be better. Being angry at him or her does not affect them, only me.

Malachy McCourt, the younger brother of the author of Angela’s Ashes, once quipped that “Being angry is like drinking poison and waiting for your enemy to die”.

I think we could all use a little less poison in our system.

I share this as someone who has been on the same odd pandemic journey that included elections and protests and lockdowns and tragedy and loss.

Here, we have told our team that this is the summer of kindness. We do not need to be smart or wise. We do not need to foster the next champion swimmer or archer. We just want to send our campers home better. After all, their schools will need them to be the leaders.

Steve Sir