Sunday nights are my favorite nights at camp. The first Sunday of each term, I give a vespers talk. (The second Sunday night belongs to the girls of 7-11 when they read their “love letters about camp” to the girls’ side.)
I try to choose topics accessible to all age groups. Tonight I spoke about “being misjudged”. My main point was this – if a person feels misjudged, then she must live her life to prove the accusation wrong. Other people’s perceptions might be false, but they are important information nonetheless. A wise girl asks herself why others misjudge her and decides if it’s worth changing her attitude or actions.
I shared a story from my freshman year of high school. I was a fairly shy, not terribly confident freshman. Like many tremulous teens, I sought the company of the most social and prominent students assuming their friendship would provide me validation. My faulty choice in friends combined with my natural reticence had me labeled a snob. The fact that I felt minimal connection with this crowd, perhaps, furthered my vulnerability. When a friend accused me of being aloof, I was deeply hurt, defensive and somewhat bewildered. Heck, I didn’t feel I had anything to be snobbish about.
I shared my struggles with my parents. I have a wonderfully pragmatic Yankee father. The “Get over it. Life is not a piece of cake” kind. Rather than console me, both my parents encouraged introspection. What perception had I created that people would think this of me? Did it bother me enough to change it? While I shared the details with the campers of how I successfully changed my image in high school, I’ll simply tell you that by the end of my freshman year I had a new group of friends (no surprise) and felt happy and accepted. My snob reputation declined as I strived to be a friendlier and more engaging person. To this day, I still have to cultivate my own extroversion. I’m envious of people like Craw Ma’am and Garcia Ma’am whose extroversion is effortless.
Many times I reiterated this point to the girls: no one can keep you down but yourself. I couldn’t depend on the interest of the general freshman class to get to know me well enough to see my shyness. I was the one responsible for changing their view of me. I was keeping myself down. Whether or not I felt that I had been misjudged was irrelevant. I was the only one who could fix the situation.
The vespers speech also included the topic of misjudging others. My high school experience had taught me not to judge others quickly as I myself had been judged.
After I gave my speech, I asked for the girls to share their own stories. At least fifty hands popped up immediately and more kept coming. (I am not exaggerating) The minis chose to relate this story to camp. Many shared their fears of the Glob, the Climbing Wall, Waterskiing etc. They all resolved to overcome their physical fears.
The evening got a little more interesting when girls shared struggles with cabin dynamics. They’d been impatient or intolerant with cabin-mates. One admitted she could be bossy, another’s disorganization was impeding cabin clean up. Another said that her cabin has misjudged her as mean and rather than stay angry at them, she publically pledged to prove them wrong through her kindness.
I was even more thrilled when some girls admitted their tendency to judge others too quickly, to be superficial and to let others’ opinions influence their own.
Many girls pledged to make the rest of their lives as good as camp. Camp creates such a feeling of support, love and possibilities, campers feel confident and open. But when they get back home, that confidence diminishes. I constantly challenge campers to note the qualities they love about themselves while they are here at camp and then bring those qualities back “to the outside world”.
Finally, the really good stuff. I occasionally tear up when I listen to my wonderful girls show their maturity and insight. (I’m such a softy and they all tease me for it, which I love.) So tonight I choked up when one first year camper admitted that she’d been unfair to her stepfather as she blamed him for not being her dad. She had misjudged him and resolved to be more accepting and to make it her responsibility to improve their relationship. Another said that her family was moving to a new town and that she and her brothers had made life intentionally difficult for her parents and that they deserved better.
When I hear these confessions, I am so proud of my campers I can’t stand it. It’s hard enough to admit our shortfalls to ourselves. But to admit them to the entire girls’ side and then hear the murmurs of support and “snaps” from their peers is tremendously powerful and affirming. I can’t wait to follow up in the days to come and hear about the successes these girls are going to have at camp and in their lives.
I love your daughters!