I’ve been a volunteer in the BSA and with young men in our Church for nearly all of my adult life. I don’t know why I was ever asked to work with young men given my intolerance for ‘finger pulling’, horseplay, shenanigans and everything else that makes me irritable and annoyed with youth.
I’ve had the opportunity of working with good boys who are now adults raising families of their own. I was an active participant in their formative lives, watching them gradually make the transition from youth to adulthood. I have a vested interest in how their lives play out and I’m deeply affected when they succeed and even more so when they don’t because I feel like there is something that I could have said or done to steer them from incarceration or moral depravity. They are forced on me by virtue of my duty as a volunteer, but in the end, they become a part of my family.
It wasn’t always that way. I admit I became involved with young men because I was asked to work with them, not because I wanted to. After all, I was just a young man myself when I first started. But gradually my thoughts and actions shifted. It has become a compulsion to help these young men, not just an obligation.
And this is something else that age and experience has taught me – that I cannot be just a volunteer, a babysitter or an enforcer. I must relish my position as a mentor, advisor, teacher and supporter.
Last night, in the biting wind and the drifting snow I saw once again in a group of young men what it means to be a part of their growth and development. When I first started working with youth I thought I had to talk. I thought that the only way to get something done when we were out camping, hiking or any other activity was to demand and coerce. But truly the real measure of leadership for me has been a lesson that I’ve known for many years but didn’t allow the boys to do in their own due time: teach them correct principles then step back and let them govern themselves.
I often criticize today’s youth for being indolent, obnoxious and obtuse and there is some truth to that…sometimes. But there are also times when you just have to step back, let them assess the situation, address it in a way that they feel is appropriate and then let them shine.