How Sixth Grade Camp Taught Me A Life Lesson
It was a warm afternoon in the fall of 1998. We find my 12 year old self standing in a small group of other preteen boys most likely not listening to the camp counselor trying to instruct us on the basics of how to use a compass. Suddenly a shrill whistle cuts through the air bringing with it silence and immediate attention to the individual from which the whistle came. The words that came out of my sixth grade teacher’s mouth next would change my life, I just wouldn’t know it at the time. He said:
“Boys how you navigate anywhere in life comes down to three things: 1. Figuring out where you are. 2. Figuring out where you are going. 3. Align yourself with your target and create a course to get there.”My Sixth Grade Teacher Mr. Leyden
While I know that lesson helped me understand the basics of navigating from various points in a small wooded area, the greater life lesson wouldn’t hit me until later. A lot of people have various designs for where they want to get in life. We use words like purpose, finding your why, dreams, goals, visions, manifestations, and more to describe this ideal future us. People also spend a lot of time figuring out where they are by taking tests of various types, reviewing previous personal history such as genealogy or even journals, meditating or other inner focused activities. None of these are bad things and in fact they might be exactly the tools you need to change your life.
Some people even create a course for how to get from where they are to where they are trying to go. But one of the major things most people including myself forget is to bring themselves into alignment. The best way I’ve ever seen alignment described is positioning yourself in a manner that your next action creates progress in getting towards your desired destination. This was a sign in a tire shop about how tires in proper alignment are more efficient and longer lasting.
What if progress isn’t forward?
I don’t remember the first time I watched the documentary 180 Degrees South. But I do remember immediately needing to re-watch one quote over and over again. Doug Tompkins, the co-founder of North Face says, “And the response to people who say you can’t go back… Well, what happens if you get to the cliff and you take one step forward… or you make a 180 degree turn and then take one step forward? Which way are you going? Which way is progress?” This lesson has been helpful for me to remember that sometimes doing the same thing that we’ve always have doesn’t always mean that’s what we should be doing.
Sometimes we have to re-align our course, because our location has changed or because something we didn’t account for has changed. For example, most people weren’t accounting for a global pandemic to completely change the world in March 2020. Some businesses and people have since looked at their alignment and said we need to do things differently than before. Some people haven’t. The opportunity for realignment doesn’t always require a massive shift in the world, but rather could be the result of a new perspective. Or maybe it is the results of intentionally taking time to examine your alignment?
What Cults, Pop Culture, and Other Mass Movements Get Right?
An interesting thing happens when you read history or take a general look at society through time. There are countless stories of things happening at a certain place and time and tons of people being there. When these events occur it is typically a product of group alignment. You have a group of people who are all interested in doing a specific thing that they may or may not do by themselves. A lot of people are quick to point out cult followers as typically brainwashed individuals who should have known better. Research indicates that we as “normal” individuals are subject to a lot of the same influence or persuasion without always being aware of it.
Solomon Asch is a psychologist who has multiple experiments on conformity Multiple hidden camera shows are based on this idea of seeing other people in a conforming situation and you as the observer saying “Yeah but I’d never do that.” But what about all of the products that you buy? When you chose to buy anything from food to a house those decisions are most likely influenced by other people. Pop culture is essentially popular because multiple people align on the idea that this thing or person should be popular because they like it. Then they tell others and hope those people like it too.
This is where alignment becomes vitally important. When your identity is amongst the crowd good or bad things can happen. Some crowds work together to form charities, some are just fans of bands, others create terrorism. The important this is that you understand your alignment regardless of the group. That way you can resist the crowd and go a different way if it doesn’t align with your values. Or you can align with the crowd and create a movement that is probably bigger than any one person.
Understanding yourself and where you are going are great. But don’t forget to find your alignment too. It might change as you go through this journey. It’s okay to take a step backward to make progress. It’s also important to understand how you align yourself within society. The people you surround yourself with impact your identity, your choices, your experiences. Try your best to align with people that seem to have an alignment with your values. Please leave a comment below about something you learned today or an experience good or bad where your alignment needed changed.