John Donne wrote the famous words: “No man is an island, entire of itself…” Most of us know those words by heart, and we have heard them over and over throughout our lives. Many people even agree with the statement, but we do not always live in such a way that embraces the truth. We try to go it alone, to keep our secrets, to hide or solve our problems on our own. “No one will understand” or “talking about it won’t solve anything” becomes the loop running through our minds. If we read on in the poem, Donne elaborates “Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.” We are connected. Whether we like it or not, embrace it or not, the choices we make every day have a profound impact on the lives of those around us. Most young people, or people in general, do not always think like this. We make decisions and accept the consequences (or not) for ourselves, but we are not the only ones who experience those consequences. Not only is this a big responsibility, but it is also a profound privilege. One smile, helping hand or kind word can help propel another person down a completely different path. This is a concept we talk about every day, at camp, in the process we call a huddle.
We are not on an island, but in the middle of 840 acres of pine and oak trees, where the sunlight comes piercing through in such a way that we cannot help but be reminded that we are not alone. Twelve girls come to form a circle after someone in the group calls for a huddle. We are not always sure what the huddle will bring, but it is familiar. We might be huddled up just to talk about our next activity and set commitments called “standards” for how we will go about accomplishing the task and how we will conduct ourselves, or we might be huddled up to resolve a conflict, or seek support when we are having a hard time. The girls know it is an opportunity to express themselves and hear the experiences of other campers, who have been down a similar road. It is a chance to hear the words “I can relate to that” and be once again reminded that we are not alone.
Sometimes we are not ready to look at something (a behavior, attitude, past decision) that might be preventing us from reaching our potential. That’s when the group process comes into play. When twelve of your peers are telling you, “Do you realize that you do this…?” it becomes harder and harder to ignore. In huddles, the girls hold up mirrors for one another and it is so much more powerful than a lecture because it comes from someone who is in your same shoes. Over time, the girls begin to make powerful connections between what comes from the huddle and the choices that they make at home with their friends and families.
One of the biggest lessons learned in huddles is the concept of not going to bed angry. Only, in huddles we take it a step further to: “we are not leaving until we figure this out”. The girls learn to talk out the disagreement so that we are not walking away with feelings building up or gossiping about one another. The goal in every huddle is to get to a point that we can leave the situation and move forward. We learn to put our pride down and say, “I’m sorry” as well as to forgive others. It is an overlooked skill that helps our girls rebuild relationships with family members and friends. We get very good at it in huddles.
So, not only is the huddle an invaluable tool to teach these life lessons, but the connection that if offers lasts well past the time at camp. The message: “You are worth the time it will take to figure this out,” is sometimes the most powerful part of a huddle. Donne’s final few sentences contain the words, “because I am involved in mankind…,” which is at the heart of every huddle, “because you are a Cliff Dweller, a Tasarakko, or an Ayukumkus…” And what I have learned from alumni that still come back to visit years later is that this stays with both the staff and the girls and is beyond powerful.