Sunday, August 09, 2015

When Reality Beats Fear...

Its been an interesting couple of weeks.   First the Boy Scouts of America ended it's ban of LGBT adults volunteering in the program.   It is far too soon to say exactly what this means for Scouting organizationally in the long term.   But for me,  it means I can once again give of my time, and talents to an movement that played a crucial role in making me the person I am today.  

I left Scouting after "coming out".  At the time I  believed that I would never be able to go back.  Not just because of the membership Policies at the time, but I just assumed that for many of my friends in Scouting,  this one truth about me would be a bridge too far, and they would most likely find ways to slip quickly and quietly out of my life.

For the record..  It turns out, I'm an idiot.  

I am blessed with friends who are much smarter than I am.  Who either already knew/guessed why I had left  and never stayed in touch and were quietly waiting for me to get a clue.   Or when they did find out, rightly called me a complete and utter doofus  for thinking it would ever affect our friendship.  That isn't to say there weren't some people  for whom whom it did.   There are friends I have lost.   Some I will confess,  were not a surprise, but some very much were.   Yet  at end of the day,  the loss serves as remainder that the choice to live honestly doesn't come without risk, or cost,  and reminds me to cherish what I have gained, all the more.

Coming out stories tend to fall into what now seems, a number  clich├ęd categories.  Either they tend to have  enough tragedy and eventual  triumph to fill an ABC afterschool special from the mid 1980's, or are dark stories of fear and bigotry .  The internet is full of horror stories of young people who are rejected by their families when they come out.   Stories of lives cut short,  either swallowed up  by the darkness of trying to live a live half in half out of  the closet.  Or brutally ended by the fear, hatred and bigotry of friends and family,  the very people  who should be their greatest advocates and protectors.
1997 in South Korea

By comparison , my own journey out of the closet was remarkably anti-climatic. After a childhood, adolescence and young adulthood of living every day gripped with fear that coming out would destroy my life; I just pretty much got over it.    Okay... I'll admit,  it wasn't THAT simple...

It would be a journey that would lead me to move to the other side of the world in hopes that putting a crazy amount of distance between me and my "old life" (i.e. all the friends and family I had known and had up to that point), would give me the space I needed to come to terms with who I was, and what I really wanted in life.

In truth, it did help. My time living and working in Asia was a turning point in my road to self acceptance. Its where I would finally look in the mirror and say those two terrifying words: "I'm Gay" without expecting the sky itself to come crashing down on my head, Its where I would fall in love, and get my heart broken, and healed for the first time. (by the way JDM, If I never told you , thank you...)

Yet after returning to the U.S.,  in terms of having the all dramatic "coming out moment" with my parents,  they kinda beat me to it.  They had figured things out long before I was ready to talk to them about it.  And as they have done all through my life,  they did what they do best;  They patiently,  (ok... very patiently)waited for me to be ok ... with me,   All the while making it clear  that they already were.

I am ridiculously lucky in that My Parents are the two most remarkable people I have ever known.  They have mastered the three key arts of parenting;  They love unconditionally,  they teach and mentor constantly ,  and yes,  when called for, they criticize strategically.   Their love and encouragement  for Eric and I on our journey from insane long distance relationship,  to our life together as a married couple was a key support structure for both us. 

Then today,  my blackberry,  (yes I still use a blackberry,  you  iPhone/android hippies got a problem with that??), buzzed  notifying me that I had an email from my dad.  I assumed  it was just to set a time for our weekly Skype video call we usually have on Sunday nights.  

Instead, what was in the mail was this picture, from Madison Wisconsin's LGBT Pride Celebration.    A celebration that I have never been to, and as kid growing up there,  I never thought I could ever attend.   Leave it to my parents to once again,  beat me to it,  and get there before me.  

My parents have always gone out of their way to let me know they are proud me.   Today its high time I made up for lost time and did the same.  Thank You Mom and  Dad.  I  love you both so much and  being your son,  is the greatest gift and blessing I could have ever hoped for.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Celebrating a Century of Service

He who serves his fellows, is of all his fellows greatest….

This week has been one where I have “servant leadership” on the brain. Its a tricky topic in this day and age. Striking many as more than a little bit old fashioned. As I sit here in Manchester England (I am here on a two day business trip, I’ll head back to London later today...) On the other side of the world at Michigan State University, over 15,000 members of the Boy Scouts of America, who are members of an honor society known as the Order of the Arrow have gathered to celebrate the organization’s centennial at their National Conference (NOAC).

Back in 1915  two men,  Dr. E. Urner Goodman, and Col. Carrol A. Edson  were running a Summer Camp for Boy Scouts at Treasure Island, just   outside of Philadelphia Pennsylvania .  As the Summer progressed,  they wanted to come up with a way to recognize  young men who  exemplified the idea of  “cheerful service”, of going above and beyond the norm of what was expected in being both an example to,  and  a servant –leader of  their fellow campers.  

Moreover, they wanted to make that recognition something special. Something that would be both and meaningful and forward facing. Meaning, it would both recognize and motivate those who were honoured, to dedicate themselves all the more to the idea of serving others. To achieve this, the two men drew heavily on their Masonic background to create and induction process that would embody and emphasize the core principles of this new honor society; Brotherhood, Cheerfulness and Service.

Additionally, they decided that the decision of choosing who would receive the honor of membership in this new group would be made by non-members. Election to the Order would be something bestowed on you by your peers, not something you campaigned for. 100 years later, The Order of the Arrow has grown from a creative idea to recognize and inspire campers and staff at one Summer camp, into American Boy Scouting’s national honor society with over 180,000 current active members and hundreds of thousands of alumni spanning the globe. The OA counts among its ranks, Presidents, members of Congress, Astronauts, CEO’s Generals, Admirals, Cabinet members and Hollywood icons. 

Consequently , the OA has often been regarded (as many fraternal organizations are..) as some sort of “secret society”. While untrue, the assumption is understandable. To ensure that new members going through their induction in the future do not have their experience lessened or spoiled, some aspects are safeguarded as confidential. This Allows the Order of the Arrow, to utilizes mystery as a tool in its induction process. Yet the OA will never withhold information from any person legitimately interested in investigating its nature, purpose, or methods of the organization.
The mission and focus of the Order of the Arrow has grown over the past century and includes areas such as environmental responsibility, promoting the protection, sustainable use and conservation of the outdoor camping environments in which the Order was founded. The ArrowCorps Program provides hundreds of volunteer hours annually. Yet the Order's core purpose is and has always been, this idea of servant leadership. Or “Cheerful Service” to others.
Programs to achieve this include the aforementioned National Order of the Arrow Conference (NOAC), held every two years and happening this week at Michigan State University.
Also, the OA regularly runs National Leadership Seminars (NLS). A two day conference focused on the skills and attributes of leadership. The program enhances the leadership skills of the members as they seek to improve their services to the Boy Scouts of America and the greater communities in which they live.

The NLS complements other week-long, more detailed leadership programs for both youth and adults in Scouting. The NLS prepares members to become better leaders both within and outside of Scouting program. It is an outcome I can attest to, first hand. From 1987 to 1992 I taught sessions as part of the staff of more than 20 National Leadership Seminars at both the Regional and National level .  

It is not an overstatement to say, my experiences in Scouting, but more specifically in the Order of Arrow, are largely responsible for my more than twenty year career in organizational learning and leadership development, that has spanned the US, Europe and Asia. 

There is not a day when I am not able to apply the principles instilled me as a member of the Order of the Arrow in both my personal and professional life. My experiences as an “Arrowman” both influenced and informed key choices I have made, and have also given me some of the greatest friendships I have in my life.

So to my friends, and fellow “Brothers” (and more than one Sister as well... ) in the Order of the Arrow, happy 100th birthday. Here’s to the next century of service, friendship and fellowship.