An open letter to Stomping Ground Staff.
Your job this summer isn’t about dodgeball, swimming, friendship bracelets, night games, outrageous activities, embers, or the hundreds of other things you will do this summer. You job is way more important than that.
You are inspiring a generation of radically empathetic decision makers.
We aren’t going to sit back and complain about divisive politics, world leaders, inequality, angry neighbors, or disgruntled teachers. We are going to do something about it. This summer our job is to play dodgeball, go swimming, make friendship bracelets, run night games, put on outrageous activities, and connect over embers not because any of those activities in and of themselves matter, but because they are a piece of the sandbox designed to inspire radically empathetic decision making.
AT STOMPING GROUND WE BUILD A COMMUNITY WHERE CAMPERS AND STAFF TAKE OTHERS’ PERSPECTIVE, AND WE UNDERSTAND THE IMPACT OF OUR CHOICES.
WE CALL THIS RADICALLY EMPATHETIC DECISION MAKING.
We believe that by living in a radically empathetic community where conflict is resolved restoratively, campers and staff will be inspired to be more radically empathetic decision makers.
While at camp the staff focus on three main building blocks to make this possible.
We don’t work hard because hard work is intrinsically good. We work hard because this is an ambitious and challenging goal. One that we take incredible seriously. As staff we give our summer to co-creating this experience with kids.
Sometimes that means plunging toilets, not getting enough sleep, moving heavy things, and it almost always means working long hours. We do this because it’s worth it for the campers and because it’s incredibly fun. We make lifelong friends, try new things, learn, grow, play, and more.
Working at Stomping Ground is hard and, for the right people, it’s 200% worth it.
Building a Radically Empathetic Sandbox
We talk a lot about sandboxes. What we mean is building the structure to play/live in. Lots more on sandboxes at camp here. A Radically Empathetic Sandbox at Stomping Ground is built on four core values that let individuals thrive in the community.
We call these our ABCG’s, autonomy, belonging, competence, and generosity. First Nations People had a similar concept of growth needs in the Circle of Courage and phycologists Richard Ryan and Edward Deci call these psychological needs in Self-Determination Theory.
The sandbox at camp represents the systems, structure, and culture we live in everyday. It is our consent based programming, restorative justice conflict resolution, and the way we treat each other.
Building and maintaining the sandbox is a huge part of what we do as staff. In many ways, we give up some of our autonomy to create an autonomous environment for kids. Over time campers become a huge part of setting the culture, influencing program, and resolving complex conflicts.
Awe Inspiring Moments
We don’t remember all things equally. We remember moments, and these moments shape how we see ourselves and the world. As staff, we spend a lot of energy trying to recognize and create magical moments that kids will remember and take with them when they go. We look to create intimate, outrageous, meaningful experiences with and for kids to help inspire radically empathetic decision making as we all reenter the “real” world.
In the sandbox analogy these awe inspiring moments are the addition of fun toys, hoses, and grownups helping the kids in the sandbox build cool castles and other creations. We aren’t forcing them to build what we want, but we are offering different experiences, that they might not have thought of.
We make decisions based on the circumstances and the narrative of how we see ourselves and the world. When we need to make a decision we interpret what is happening, based on our past experiences and our world view, then we decide.
At camp we hope to create the opportunities for all of us to build a more empathetic narrative so when we make more empathetic decisions. The goal isn’t for the staff to force empathy on the campers, but rather for all of us to live empathetically together and create experiences that help us develop a radically empathetic narrative.
Our goal is to inspire a generation of Radically Empathetic Decision Makers.
Jack and Laura