Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Other Founder-Roots of the Boy Scouts

Reflecting on recent news about the young men involved in committing multiple murders in the US and Norway it occurs to me that something they each have in common is a lack of connection to their better selves and to nature.

Earlier this month I attended the 152nd birthday celebration of Ernest Thompson Seton, a founder of the Boy Scouts of America who once lived in a castle he built not more than five miles from my home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. 
By the late 19th century there was some fear that the industrial revolution had seriously undermined some of the self-reliance and connection to wild nature thought to be inherent in manhood. Perhaps this was the first wave of awareness regarding nature deficit disorder as one author penned it this century. 
As family and family biographers gathered and spoke to a larger community group at the party, it was noted that Ernest Thompson Seton (born a Scot, as was John Muir), a prodigious writer, artist and youth development champion had a different design for and philosophy of the boy scouts than the one that prevailed through the 20th century. He held that indigenous ways of learning, adapting to and cooperating with nature were more important to character building than the militarism other prominent leaders of the time were keen to inculcate as they feared boys might become too effeminate if something was not done to intervene. 
Seton developed programs for girls with co-educational activities as well which was far beyond most sensibilities of the time. Though world wars took their toll on the arc Seton projected, modern scouting may have headed back toward his earlier directions and imprint. I surmised some of that when I visited the Philmont Scout Ranch website. Some of Seton's works are housed in a museum there as well as near Seton Castle in Santa Fe, now owned by the Academy For The Love of Learning. Philmont consists of an entire wilderness area and leadership training center near Cimarron, New Mexico where tens of thousands of boys and young men have spent time each summer since 1939.

When I was growing up my father fondly shared with me on more than one occasion that as a youngster he had participated in the Wildcraft Rangers (an offshoot of Seton's work) as well as in YMCA programs. My post paying tribute to my father this year notes he was a street kid with little parental guidance. His experiences with these organizations were formative, creating lasting memories. 

I too learned early lessons in leadership and what it meant to be in awe of and have respect for nature while attending Y camp as a boy. The YMCA was an early supporter of Seton's work. I guess that in an indirect but significant way, I owe special thanks to Ernest Thompson Seton for the man I've become. 

Do youth in your life have access to these positive character and values shaping experiences that can play an important role in building a society everyone can thrive in? 
The following information was based on material originally written by Dee Seton Barber, a daughter of Ernest Thompson Seton 
In 1902, the first of a series of articles by Ernest Thompson Seton that began the Woodcraft movement was published in the Ladies Home Journal. In 1906 while in England Seton met with Baden-Powell, who was introduced to him by the Duke of Bedford. They exchanged correspondence from then until after Baden Powell founded the Boy Scouts, borrowing much material and many concepts from Seton without giving him credit.
Dewinton%201920.jpgIn 1907 Seton made a 2000 mile canoe trip in northern Canada, with Edward Preble of the US Biological Survey as his traveling companion. The trip was funded by Seton. Although he was not a surveyor and did his mapping with only a good compass, the maps he made on this trip were used until the 1950's, and are still considered extremely accurate.06053t.gif
In 1910 Seton was chairman of the founding committee of Boy Scouts of America. He wrote the first handbook (including B-P's Scouting material) and served as Chief Scout from 1910 until 1915. Seton did not like the military aspects of Scouting, and Scouting did not like the Native American emphasis of Seton. With WW I, the militarists won, and Seton resigned from Scouting. He revived Woodcraft in 1915, not as a children's organization, but as a coeducational organization serving all ages, THE WOODCRAFT LEAGUE OF AMERICA.Seton%20seated%20at%20Woodcraft%20Circle.jpg
It prospered. In 1922 the children's organization "Little Lodge" was merged with the Western Rangers, and became the Woodcraft Rangers. They were not interested in girls or adults, so this became a young boys organization. The Woodcraft Rangers became a co-educational organization by the early 1950's.
Seton continued to run Woodcraft Leadership Camps in Greenwich until 1930 when he moved to Santa Fe. In 1931 he became a United States citizen.
In Santa Fe, he built a castle on 100 acres in his "retirement" and continued to train leaders in Woodcraft. In addition to this, he wrote most of the first U.S. edition of the Boy Scout Handbook and was responsible for many of the concepts found within Scouting throughout the world.
In 1934 Seton and Grace were divorced. In 1935 (Jan.22) Seton married his second wife, Julia Moses Buttree (also known as Julia Moss Buttree) in El Paso, TexasSeton%20w%20Baby%20Dee.jpg
In 1938 they adopted a daughter, later Dee Seton Barber, who appeared with them on stage during Seton's lifetime.Seton%20Julia%20Dee.jpg
Julia was an author in her own right. Her first book, 'Rhythm of the Redman' was published before she married Seton. He did the illustrations for this book. She worked as Seton's assistant, secretary, and they performed joint lectures in schools, at clubs, in churches and lecture halls of towns and universities, throughout the United States, Canada, France, England and the Czech Republic.
The Leadership camps continued in Santa Fe, until 1941 (WW II), but were not continued after the war, as Seton died in 1946, at the age of 86.
After Seton's death, Julia continued to write and maintain the Santa Fe estate, and also lectured on her own, her last tour sponsored by the Audobon Society in 1967. She suffered a stroke in 1968 and died in 1975 in Santa Fe.
Dee Seton Barber died in 2006.

For more about Ernest Thompson Seton go to:
Here's the link to Philmont Scout Ranch

Friday, August 17, 2012

More on Men's Groups- How To's

Thanks to those men commenting on the last blog post titled Men's Groups!

In the last post I made a high falutin' claim that the kind of groups of men we are talking about here are really significant for our species evolution in this 21st century, evolving toward a world that works for everyone. It was  suggested that being involved in a men's group is even a kind of initiation for some into a whole new terrain of claiming all of oneself in order to live a life based on one's passions and highest sense of purpose. And it moves men from being in fear of other men or in competition to a sacred space of honoring each man. I had not yet talked about the tools and yes, the "technology" of a group that can foster that kind of experience for men.

There is greater emphasis these days on the wisdom of elders being something that can be useful in this evolution. In many minds, that could summon the image of a Native American chief or elder with long white hair--thanks to Dances With Wolves--and other popular media. We now have within our aging population greater numbers of elders that may not even consider themselves as such but contain a profound body of knowledge and experience. This is true within this less known world of men's groups and what it takes to create and sustain this kind of gathering of men. It certainly helps if a man has already committed to looking at what is working in his life and what is not. As we'll see in the sharing of these two wise elders (my words), it is not always a precondition for joining this kind of fire circle. It can begin with some felt intimation that being an island or feeling separate and alone does not have to be one's destiny as a man.

Here’s Tim from Tucson, Arizona

My involvement with the pro-feminist men's movement began with a men's group at Drake University (where I was working) in the mid-70s.  Since then I've had many experiences with men's groups, mostly positive ones, and I've been in a very special men's group in my hometown of Tucson, Arizona, for many years.  Here's what I've noticed about characteristics of men's groups that have been meaningful and fulfilling for me:

1) Our discussions/sharing are almost exclusively about ourselves and one another, not about other people, sports, politics, etc. 

2) It really helps if most/all of the participants are psychologically healthy and at least somewhat sophisticated, i.e. having been through therapy/counseling, acquainted with our feelings and patterns in our lives, and not uncomfortable with being vulnerable, asking for help from others, etc.

3) A common pattern, especially for men, is to try to solve other people's problems.  In my men's group, after someone has shared a problem or struggle that they are having, the others of us typically respond with questions, what we notice about what has just been shared with us, asking the person what would be helpful (especially what kind of support might be useful), and occasionally briefly sharing similar experiences that we have had (without changing the focus from the original person).  Even more rarely one of us might challenge the person if what they're doing seems self-destructive or unhealthy. 

4) If the group is functioning well (which fortunately ours does most of the time), we don't have to focus on our process very often.  But we're always aware of our process, and we address it when necessary, such as apologizing when one of us gets into a problem-solving mode, or we interrupt someone.  Because we usually meet only once a month, we often begin with a process question: "Does anyone need time at this meeting?"  If not, we usually go around and each of us checks in, discussing personal aspects of our lives (both problems/struggles as well as achievements and positive things). 

I refer to my fellow men's group members as "wise guys" because being together often feels like being with a group of very wise therapists.  We deeply trust and love one another.  If I were to ever move away from Tucson, one of my greatest sorrows would be missing my men's group.  I feel deeply blessed to be a part of my men's group.

Here’s Don from Socorro, New Mexico

Like Tim, I have been active in men's groups for 3 decades. I still see myself, as do the men in the group, as part of the group in Tucson that Tim participates in, even though I moved from Tucson more than 9 years ago now. The men of that group go out of there way to schedule a meeting if they know that I will be in the area. I want to echo Tim's characterization of the men as "wise men." And to that I would add courageous men. We know enough of each others' stories to appreciate the challenges we have faced and the character it took and still takes to face those challenges. When dealing with some stressful event, I often turn to the internalized "wise and courageous men" of my group and ask what have they done or might do in response.

After leaving Tucson, I started a group in Las Cruces where I lived for four years, and have just had the first meeting of a group in Socorro, NM where I now live (two of us, initially). Here are a few thoughts about my experience to add to Tim's:

1. Talking to men about a "men's group" is tantamount to speaking in a foreign language. Men typically have not had experience in meeting with other men "just to talk and share."  While talking to a potential member recently, and trying to use his experience of hunting and fishing groups as a bridge, I said that a men's group is "like being with a group of good hunting and fishing buddies without the hunting and fishing, and without having to go anywhere to do it."

2. Homophobia is so much a part of men's culture that it tends to get activated if the hearer can't place men being with men in any known context, i.e. hunting, fishing and war. It is difficult to talk about the debt we all owe GLBTs for helping us know who we are, without the other person hearing us be anti-heterosexual. Especially if it is made known that the group is open to all men. Being homophobic is often the most significant barrier to someone joining a group, and the most important to grapple with in order to benefit from being a full member;

3. Men have a hard time understanding that intimacy is an experience of the self versus something that we do with our sexual partner(s) (in-to-me-see), and that we can experience intimacy with others and other things.  If the reluctant, potential group member could form his question about the "whys" of such a group it might sound like this, "Well, if it's not a therapy group then why do it? (And, I'm not interested/don't need therapy!)." It is important to acknowledge that the group is not for therapy, although it may be therapeutic. As men, we do not need to be fixed, and we are not looking for someone or something to fix us.

4. There is a wonderful poem about how men lose the benefits of sharing by not doing it. The poem contrasts how women unburden themselves by sharing. The poem concludes with something to the effect of "and men leave with the pain of no one knowing." I can't find it at the moment but will continue to look and send it along when I do.