What Builds Character?

calvin_hobbes_shoveling

This week my friends, family, and followers on Facebook and Twitter have been subjected to my “Saga of the Cub Scout Day Camp” updates.  My 9yo son is a Bear in  Cub Scouts, and in order for his pack to go to camp, a handful of us needed to step up and volunteer for the week.  Though the word “volunteer” is quite relative in this situation.

Cub Scout Day Camp in our area is held for one week at a local farm and ranch, with three daily sessions of athletics (badminton, golf, and archery) held out in the fields, and three academic/craft sessions (chess, science, and art) held inside a huge livestock arena.  Cub Scouts come to make friends, learn new skills, and earn badges, but I’m not gonna lie to you – a lot of them are dragging themselves from point a to point b just to participate.  The location is hot and dirty and altogether a very uncomfortable arrangement.  I mean, it’s Houston for goodness sake!  In the summer!  And the days last five very. long. hours. each.

My 9yo son went last year and enjoyed it enough to soldier through the heat and fatigue.  But on day two this year, I could see something was wrong.  I was taking pictures of him, and noticed his eyes tearing up.  “I just want to go home,” was all he said.

He stayed through yesterday, but this morning we sat down and talked.  “Why did you want to go in the first place?” I asked him.  “Because I sorta thought that’s what I was supposed to do.”  “Are you having any fun?” “Well, kinda.  But I could do without it.”  “But what about all the badges you won’t earn if you don’t stay?”  “Mom, I can earn those badges any time on my own.”  And my final question:  “Is Cub Scout Camp important to you at all?”  “Not really,” was his reply.

When there were hints yesterday that he might not be finishing the week of camp, one of the male den leaders suggested I force him to come.  “It builds character!” he told me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that.

Persevering through adversity to overcome an unavoidable situation in life – that builds character.  Persevering through adversity to ultimately reach a goal that means something to you – that builds character.  But trying to persevere through adversity for something you didn’t choose for the right reasons AND doesn’t really mean anything to you?  I’m not sure that builds character.  I think that makes you more of a martyr or a glutton for punishment.

I think of how many adults (myself included) who have a terrible time shedding responsibilities, stresses, and commitments over things that don’t REALLY mean that much to us.  I think there’s some value in teaching my child how to evaluate what he wants and decide how much effort he’s going to put towards it.

I know many see a catch in that phrase:  “what he really wants.”  I think the majority would say that WE as parents know best what our child wants.  I just don’t feel that way, not most of the time, anyway.  I’m not in his shoes, and I just don’t feel like I can force his hand on this.  He may have some regrets later for not finishing the week at camp, but those will be the consequence of a decision I allowed him to make.

And that for me is the bottom line – I allowed him to determine his priorities and make a responsible decision for himself.  I think maybe that’s what builds character, too.