choices

As I mentioned a couple posts ago, I went to the coast with 18 high school kids in the last week of January. In many ways, it was like the trip I did last year at the same time. There were improvements since then – the logistics were smoother, the cooking was cleaner, and we had figured out the tides so that we only had to haul the kayaks across tidal flats once in the whole week instead of every day. Still, the trip was pretty similar to last year, and my pictures this year weren’t that great, so … here’s to reading old posts.

What I’ve actually been thinking about since that trip is a “game” … okay, activity … that I did with the kids on the first day. It’s an activity I call “choices.” Here’s the set up: Everyone finds a partner and each partner-pair gets a card with a short scenario. Together, the partners read their scenario and think of a minimum of five different responses to the situation on the card – a mix of positive, negative and neutral. Each partner-pair then acts out the responses while the rest of the team laughs … and maybe helps them think of a few responses that they might have forgotten. Need an example?

SCENE 1:
You and your tent-mate set up your tent in the afternoon but forget to check the tension on the rain-fly. It rains in the middle of the night and the loose fly sags against the tent creating several leaks. You both wake up with water on your faces. What could you do?

SCENE 2:
You have just arrived back at camp after a full day of activities. You are tired and are looking forward to a short nap before starting dinner. When you get to your tent, you discover that your tent-mate had left the door open. There is sand on your bed and a trail of ants leading to one of the bags. What could you do?

SCENE 3:
Your group got a late start on dinner and it’s getting dark quickly. You are tired and hungry, and you just discovered that your cooking partner has burnt the rice. What could you do?

There were eighteen kids and so I had nine different situations ready on note cards. Clearly, the purpose of this activity is to get them to think about how they might respond in stressful situations that might come up during the week. However, it is not a “what would you do” kind of game. It is a “what COULD you do” game. I tell them several times, don’t think about what you personally would do – rather, think of all the possible coulds. What’s amazing is that the players in this game almost always start by saying that they can’t think of five. It takes a few minutes for them to warm up and start seeing the spectrum of invisible options. For example:

Not 5 … but 10 possible responses to SCENE 1:

  1. Yell at your tent-mate for not attaching the fly correctly. Make him/her get up and adjust it in the rain.
  2. Play rock, paper, scissors to decide who has to get up and adjust the fly.
  3. Get up and adjust the fly yourself while complaining loudly.
  4. Get up and adjust the fly yourself without saying anything.
  5. Go back to sleep. You can sleep wet.
  6. Get out a rain jacket (or small umbrella) and put that over you and the sleeping bag. It will shield you well enough until morning.
  7. Use your water-resistant head-lamp to watch the rain drip in.
  8. Have a conversation with your tent-mate about the rate of percolation through nylon, and analyze how much wetter you might get if neither of you gets up to fix it.
  9. Make up a song about rain dripping into a tent – to the tune of the Itsy Bitsy Spider.
  10. Get out a dry shirt or bandanna to mop up the water already in the tent, then shift positions so that it doesn’t hit you in the face anymore. Sleep with the cloth nearby and fix the fly in the morning.

I’m sure you could think of a few more.

I admit that I did not make up this game. That credit goes to a former Sunday school teacher of mine, though I’m pretty sure she didn’t make it up either. In any case, it’s one that has stuck with me since I was twelve.

Though I played the game with the kids and used it as a teaching opportunity, it was really more of a reflective exercise for me. I’ve been thinking a lot these last few months about choices and the things of daily life. It is so hard sometimes to consider the options, to think before speaking, to pause before acting – especially when under stress. It’s even harder sometimes in that stressful situation to make a choice that counters your gut instincts. Our natural reactions feel comfortable, but they are so often not wise or kind or compassionate. And when others are not being wise or kind or compassionate towards us, it’s easy to feel the self-righteous desire to pay back in kind.

And yet, every choice has a natural consequence – an effect. Each one affects our thinking. They affect other people’s behavior towards us. They turn us right or left or backwards along the road of life. What’s even more difficult to understand is that other people’s choices do the same thing. I am always on the receiving end of other people’s choices and those choices may have serious consequences for my life. Still, I cannot make or change their choice. I can only decide how I will respond.

So, right now I feel a little lost in a whirlpool of choices. There are some big decisions to be made at work with some delicate and difficult relationships to navigate. [btw, this year has been one of the most difficult and painful in the history of the school – lots of changes and challenges, both more profound than in any normal academic year.] School also seems to be taking over life a bit and I am not sure how to respond to that – whether to accept it for a season or to make some dramatic changes of my own. And some of the decisions I’m having to make now will have a very big impact on what the next school year looks like. Wisdom and prayers (and skype chats) are much appreciated.

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