When I think about how I developed the listening skills I have today, my mind immediately jumps to my month-long adventures on the coast of North Carolina. Camp placed a heavy emphasis on the importance of listening and respect, which created an atmosphere that truly demonstrates the Listen First mentality.
A major goal of camp founder Wyatt Taylor was to “foster self-confidence, independence, consideration of others, respect for our fragile environment, and a spirit of cooperation.” With this in mind, summer camp provided a place where campers, counselors, and directors could immerse themselves in a culture that fosters respect and listening. Campers, coming from all over the world are encouraged to listen to and learn from one another. When conflicts arise, campers learn to see the situation from the other person’s point of view and come to a conclusion civilly. Each night before bed, campers share their thoughts during devotions. They voice what is on their minds, while all of their cabin mates listen quietly and provide meaningful insight. Campers do not fight to be heard but rather strive to understand each other’s stories. This atmosphere leads to sincere friendships and substantial character growth.
For counselors, there is a huge emphasis placed on actively listening to your co-counselors, directors, and most importantly, your campers. During training, the directors stress the importance of unplugging from our tech-reliant world and placing all of our focus on the campers’ experiences. It is more than just listening, but rather honestly trying to understand their needs. The best thing a camper can have is a counselor that makes them feel heard. It is amazing how much I learned from kids ten years younger than me just by listening and engaging in what they had to say.
I have tried to take the listening skills I acquired at camp back to the real world. However, being an attentive listener in today’s world makes you the minority. It is so much easier to have the Listen First mindset when others around you are actively trying to embody this as well. Though the camp bubble is in some ways just that, a bubble, this does not mean that we cannot apply this camp mindset in our schools and in our everyday interactions with one another. Now more than ever, it is critical that children learn the importance of listening to one another. If they don’t, all they will know is the hostility that currently exists. So whether you are a teacher, a counselor, a parent, or just a friend, remember to set the example and be a Listen First role model for those around you.