HOW TO BE A LEADER: Tales from the rain at Camp Friedlander

It is time to have a straight conversation about a delicate topic.  After my previous article on Leadership 21 it is excessively evident that a definition of leadership must be established aside for context to mature.  For me, the pivotal realization I gained about leadership came from the referenced C.O.P.E. leadership development training mention in that previous article.  CLICK HERE TO REVIEW.  Like the Leadership 21 group, I had to spend a weekend at camp with a group of people intent on the same aims—to bond with the fellow participants through a common experience driven by rigorous endeavor deigned to break down physical and emotional barriers—a kind of mini-boot camp.

Before I say what I will next keep in mind that I came from a time where it was very important to participate in sports activities so that a letter for your school jacket could be obtained.  I’m sure this is still a concern with young people, but when I was growing up in the 80’s, this was extremely important—and I was on a search as to why.  Having tremendous physical aptitude I was successful in any sport I wished to participate in, but elected not to after a run-in with my junior high coach who took the fun of sports and distorted it into a maze of social control.  I didn’t approve of the tiered system of social development emerging in grade school where letters of extracurricular participation earned social merit.   Those letters determined what kind of girls you could date, what kind of friends you had—and ultimately what type of job and personal life one might hope to obtain, so I was on a search as to why and to question that reality.  The sales pitch from that junior high coach was that the more letters on a jacket, the higher on the pecking order of life you could obtain.  I rejected this from the outset—which caused major conflict.

Looking for adventure that did not involve the public school a friend talked me into joining his High Adventure Explorer post—a kind of post-graduate Boy Scout program that was co-ed.  It was just the kind of thing I was looking for—a quirky group ran by aerospace engineers, school teachers, and bank managers who could set the table for many weekends of adventure which I excelled at. I gave them many headaches and scares as my natural leadership ability and physical aptitude brought a wake of personalities behind me that could get into a lot of trouble.  But within two years I was elected vice-president of the Cincinnati Dan Beard Council—which wasn’t exactly the direction I wanted to go in.  It was just the current of events that carried a fate to that destination.  Like most things when I believe too many people attach themselves to me directly I find a way to shake them off whether it is some controversy, conflict, or direct infusion of animosity freeing me from obligation into their affiliation.  The reason why points back to that C.O.P.E. experience for which I am about to explain.

For a rainy spring weekend members of several local Explore Posts attended the Challenging, Outdoor, Physical, Experience otherwise known as (C.O.P.E.).  It was a series of obstacles such as large walls, zip lines, and barriers designed to develop leadership skills through joint venture.  I attended already being very familiar with Camp Friedlander where C.O.P.E. was held.  For two consecutive prior years I attended the Explore Post Olympics they had each summer where all the area Posts competed against each other in events like swimming, softball, obstacle courses, and other acts of stamina.  Among them were Police Posts and Fire Fighter Posts which began a rivalry that started way back then and persists to this day.  Out of hundreds of area kids my friend and I as 16-year-olds dominated the obstacle course and other physical events against our rivals which paved the way for some very intense and positive experiences.  So returning to the camp for a weekend of C.O.P.E. activity was an experience I looked forward to.  The event involved pitching a tent and sharing the campground with the fellow participants who would endure the rigors of many challenges over the weekend.  As the events proceeded over the next 48 hours natural bonding of relationships occurred and people participating formed friendships—except me, and a few of the same friends who attended the yearly Olympic event.  We stayed to ourselves as we usually did—in spite of the bonding activity which drew the attention of the activity directors in a negative way.

On the second day after proving to be among the most physically proficient and creative problem solvers the camp directors had enough of my anti-social behavior.  It was time for a celebration lunch to wrap up the weekend and the directors had planned a small feast cooked over Colman stoves and water jugs.   Our campsite did have some picnic tables which were covered with a pitched tarp and all the cooking was done under them as a heavy afternoon spring rain rolled in.  I socialized in a healthy way, but maintained my distance during the preparation of the food and when it came time to eat; there wasn’t enough space under the tarp to eat at a picnic table along with the other 25 participants.  So a friend and I sat at a picnic table out in the rain.  We took our food and sat down only shielded by a cowboy style hat which dripped water into my food consistently.  But it was better than being cramped at a table with all the other participants trying to eat with no elbow room to move.  But, that is exactly what the event directors wanted to see—everyone meshing together cozy and assimilated under their tarp eating together.  Ridicule came in my direction for picking up my food to eat in the rain rather to sit with the rest of the group.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like the other people, or that I was trying to take a particular anti-social stand—I just wanted to be comfortable and it was more enjoyable to eat in the pouring rain than to sit crushed together on a bench with other smelly adolescents after a weekend without showering in the woods.  For me, the rain was a shower and I enjoyed the cleansing effect of the water.  But for the event directors, I saw from them the same kind of animosity that I saw from the junior high gym teacher, kids who valued lettered school jackets and social mechanisms of assimilation as opposed to individual development.  The longer we sat in the rain, the angrier the event directors became especially when their condemnation became harsher, but did not change my behavior.  The more they said, the more I wanted to sit in the rain.

To this day when groups get together for drinks—I usually don’t go.  When they conjugate for whatever reason, I am usually not a part of it.   Now as then I would rather sit in the rain than huddle up with perfect strangers to stay dry, and I could spend entire weekends not speaking to anybody and be completely happy.  I would say that I could handle months of that type of activity, but can’t conceive that it would ever be possible.  People like me are always viewed as suspicious and called things like “lone wolf” and “anti-social” but what is behind those names is resentment that I put up barriers to being looted mentally by those who seek to do so.  The camp directors knew that I was one of the stand-outs of the weekend leadership exercise called C.O.P.E. and they needed my buy-in for everyone else to assimilate together into their concept of a “team.”  To do that they must get everyone to chase after the goals they set—whether it is letters on a school jacket to show how much extracurricular activity one has participated in—which tells all the girls that you are a socially acceptable male that has future earnings power—or whether the camp directors give you an award for outstanding leadership that can get you elected into higher office politically.  The system only works if the best and brightest buy into their interpretation of reality.  It takes people of value to endorse those activities.  I knew early on that I was one of those people of value and I have never desired to give it away to those trying to curry favor. Not to be mean, or anti-social, but to preserve it for myself to use as I saw fit.  In the world of the 20th century, and so far the 21st, that type of mentality is considered selfish—but I would call it sustaining.  I learned at those leadership camps the opposite of what they intended.

At Camp Friedlander my Explore Post and those of the police and fire groups fought like cats and dogs.  We raided their camps at night with harassment knowing that they were future authority figures and we beat them in the competitions handedly.  They were always ran by parents who were cops and firefighters so it gave us great pleasure to throw bug spray into their campfires to explode unexpectedly—so to defy them as authority figures.  Sure we got into trouble, but it was well worth it.  They were always the most arrogant, so they were the most fun to beat.  And I will always be grateful for the experiences I learned there even if it turned out to be the opposite of what the camp directors intended.  Most people are taught early in their lives to fear the “lone wolf.”  When a crazed gunman unloads bullets into a crowd, the first conclusion usually drawn is that the assailant was one of those dreaded “lone wolfs” who are “anti-social.”  But the real fear of such people and anger which comes from that fear is that “lone wolfs” are simply people who refuse to be physically and intellectually looted.  Sometimes the pressure of social castigation causes them to crack and they go on some rampage, or seek relief in suicide, or substance abuse.  But the cause of that pressure is the invisible barrier between being willingly molested intellectually by the empty vessels of existence or fighting them.  Real leadership is in understanding this, not in surrendering to those who wish to do the molesting.

About 15 years after my Camp Friedlander experiences I worked at Cincinnati Milacron and was moved to a repair facility in Lebanon, Ohio.  I worked third shift and would spend gladly vast amounts of time alone.  I got along well with the five or six other guys who worked with me on that shift, but when it came time for breaks, they all ate together, whereas I would sit and read my books alone.  Often, I climbed to the top of a tall hill that was in the back of our facility and look out over the city while reading by a small pocket flashlight.  This angered the other guys and they thought of my behavior as “anti-social.”  They would say, “do you think you’re too good for us,” or “do you think your shit don’t stink.”  In truth, they had hit the nail on the head—but I cared enough about them to not rub their nose in it.  On my breaks, I had no desire to talk about drinking, bagging and tagging women, and uttering every other word as a curse term.  I had personal higher standards than them, and didn’t wish to surrender those standards in exchange for their approval. Time with them was not worth what I lost in the process.

Leadership is in having values that are likely well out in front of everyone else and acting on them even when it means you have to stand alone.  Being a leader is in sitting in the rain when social pressure says you must assimilate, or in joining with the other guys on an off-shift so that they don’t have to feel guilty about their deplorable values when they look at you.  In truth they want to hear that you have an extramarital affair, or that you got drunk on a Saturday night because it releases them from judgment based on their own insecurities and behavior.  There were times that I climbed up that hill to read my book knowing it brought great pain to my co-workers minds as they chugged away with cigarettes below knowing that I was out of their intellectual reach and that if they wanted to converse, they’d have to step up to my level, not me down to theirs.  Their anger is that you—as a leader—set a value judgment that they were too lazy to meet.

At Camp Friedlander it was leadership to be one of the outstanding forces at C.O.P.E. in line to receive a special award from the directors, but to make a value judgment that the other kids stunk after a weekend in the woods and much physical activity without deodorant—and that sitting in the rain made more sense than being locked arm and arm with others just because the event directors wanted a picture of assimilation on the wall of the Friedlander mess hall to show how successful they were in training tomorrow’s leaders to follow directions.  Leadership is not in making others feel good, following directions, or making people feel like they are just as good as you are by bringing down your standards to meet theirs. Being a leader is in either bringing others up to your level, or making them look at the contrast so that they might want to improve themselves—or even best you in natural competition.  The gym teacher in junior high was wrong in his emphasis on school jacket lettering.  Everyone one of those kids today is a mess because the values that were taught to them were not conducive to being the leader of a family—and their lives with spouses and children have disintegrated for the most part—universally.  Years proved me right even though at the time the teacher conducted quite a smear campaign against me with terms like “lone wolf” and “social outcast” to coax me into his group assimilation.  He wanted me to run track and be on his basketball team, and thought this was the best way to encourage me.  The other members of C.O.P.E. who followed directions and ate under the tarp found their lives thereafter less than fulfilling.  And the kid who ate with me in the rain more or less had a nervous breakdown a year later.  The pressure of what I was teaching was just too great compared to the other forces in his life preaching compliance.  We haven’t spoken in 26 years because he turned to drugs for relief which I am vehemently against.   The third shift people all lost their jobs soon after I moved to another position and no longer carried the pace of that shift.  Without my presence, those workers took longer smoke breaks, and were much less productive because there was nobody to set a standard for them to meet.  Ultimately this is what a leader is—someone who sets a standard for others to live by—not one who can be moved through peer pressure to act against their observations.

I learned leadership at Camp Friedlander although not the way they designed it.  When I was elected Vice President of the Dan Beard Council it wasn’t because I sat huddled under a tarp with smelly kids, or had a run of successes with my Explore Post in the summer competitions—it was because I was dating the girl whose father was on the council and she begged him for my inclusion.  But the reason she liked me above the other competition was because I sat in the rain alone, and I was the first to jump over a wall, climb a tree, or trudge through a cave without a flashlight in neck high water.  And every success I have had since that time to the present has been of a similar type.  The world is hungry for leaders—but leaders must lead—and not get tricked into being followers—and that is exactly what is happening at the Leadership 21 courses.

I served all of one day as the VP of the Dan Beard Council.  Looking back on it the times were murky and it wasn’t always obvious which way was correct.  But what I knew I didn’t want was to become another board member bureaucrat so I sabotaged the relationships that put me in that position with malicious action to free me so that once again I was free to sit on top of a hill with my books and look out over a city without the expectations of others trying to pull me into some social context.  I have done the same thing many times over the years when I get pulled too closely into the collective thoughts of others.  Most notably recently would be the other members of No Lakota Levy.  It takes leadership to know when gears need to be shifted and when action must take place.  Leadership is not in getting along by yielding values for some perceptual greater good defined by the corrupt.  Leadership is seeing and acting on events before anybody else can—and to see clearly often a leader must isolate themselves from the chaos of living and view unhindered the forces amassed on the battlefields of life and make decisions based on their solitary judgment.  This runs counter to every other teaching method in public schools and government orthodox, but it takes a leader to understand it.  It will be for others to confirm much later on.   The pressures of being a leader are enormous and most who try will fail.  Those are the “lone wolfs” who go on rampages or falter into drug induced stupors.  But for those who make it, and survive, they are what make the world tick—and that cannot be taught in classes like Leadership 21, or C.O.P.E.  It has to come from the heart and mind of a real leader and by nature, the masses are not equipped for the task.  Instead, they stay hunched under a tarp waiting for the rain to stop while the leader waits for nothing and is a product of their own creation in spite of whatever forces might stand in their way.

Rich Hoffman


One thought on “HOW TO BE A LEADER: Tales from the rain at Camp Friedlander

  1. Yes, leadership is to be willing to be your own man. It is to know “thyself” and not need praise and agreement to your thoughts and ideas. Of course those of us who are willing to expose the truth are always running against the grain of those who are willing to be sell-outs for a few pieces of silver. The educational system has become a group of sell outs and unimaginative people. They are not excellent in their profession because they cannot be fired and they are guaranteed a salary that is increased year after year according to the signed agreement of the union. Children are graduating from high school that are unable to read, reason or even write cursive. Most of them belong to a core group of people that are just like them. Gangs are rampant. You made the right choice. Mob rule is never good.


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