“We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.” –Desmond Tutu
My own self, At my very best, All the time. Walking around one of our sites, you will see the AYF’s motto posted on shirts, buildings, and signs. More than any other saying, these are the words you see and hear at Miniwanca and Merrowvista. But what does the motto mean, exactly? Is a best self one that is only focused on itself?
In some contexts, it would be easy to hear an individualist focus in our motto. According to the Hofstede Institute, which ranks countries on six dimensions, the United States scores 91 out of a possible 100 points in Individualism, making us “one of the most Individualist countries in the world.” This is also the American Youth Foundation, after all, so it would also be easy to assume that a similar model is adopted in our camps. There is more, however, to the philosophy of best self as it plays out in our communities. Take the AYF mission:
The American Youth Foundation inspires people to discover and develop their own personal best, to seek balance in mental, physical, social and spiritual living, and to create a positive difference in their communities and the wider world.
Best self is a critical piece, for sure, but it is one of three. The other two, balance in the four folds (balanced living) and creating a positive difference (positive community), intentionally place the self within the context of our shared world.
At Miniwanca and Merrowvista, we strive to fulfill our mission: to inspire our campers to ponder what it means to be their own best self, to consider the model of living a balanced life as a way to achieve that, and then to apply that best life to the community they create when they are with us.
Daily schedules are created with time intentionally set aside to encourage campers to move through this model. Campers take time in their day to think and reflect on deeper topics related to how we all live and work together. At Miniwanca, Community Time and CORE in particular, allows campers to reflect on their personal values and why they believe they are important, or on self worth, or on knowing and caring about those around them. Through these conversations, campers are able to reach deeper and truly discover not only their own gifts, but those of their peers as well.
There are also times in the day–after meal or morning cabin clean ups–when campers are asked to care for the community in a tangible way. They work together to sweep the dining hall or eating lodge, or to clean their cabin. We believe that these moments of physically contributing to the upkeep of camp helps campers invest in the community itself, and provide a tangible example when we talk about caring for others. When campers have an experience that allows them to see how their own actions contribute to the whole, they can make connections to the idea that their attitudes and ways of talking to one another also affect their community.
When campers live as their own best selves, they speak more kindly, look out for others around them, and stay true to their values. This, in turn, supports and helps to create a community that is positive and healthy for those in it. Similarly, positive community makes it easier for people to be their own best self, and to support others in their pursuit. We work hard to let campers not only experience what it can be like to be their best selves, but also to reflect on their lives and values so that they are able to transfer the experience back home and gain new knowledge about who they are and the impact they can have on the world.
If you are seeking to be at your best, check out last month’s blog post Making the Miniwanca Magic Last All Year, where we explore ways to support best self efforts all year long.