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Chapter Nine: Adolescence and Education

Section 5: Outward Bound


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Island Moves performing Hawaiian Hula at Santa Cruz Polynesian festival to the backing of Kapalaikiko.


Outward Bound is the name of an educational program that contains useful elements not found in most other programs. It is a one-month character building clinic utilizing the wilderness to test the ability and limits of its participants. Groups of about a dozen people face various contrived and natural obstacles with varying degrees of trained supervision. The activities may include mountain climbing, sailing, canoeing, bicycling, hiking, and snow shoeing, depending on the particular school attended.



Throughout the program participants are forcefully invited to attempt feats which require more than the usual amount of self-confidence. With measured pressure from the trainers and peer support, participants continually find themselves performing beyond their expectations. This serves as a considerable boost to self-confidence. Many of the tasks require total commitment, and participants come to learn the importance of putting one's all into one's endeavors.



Much is accomplished by taking risks, and the saying, "the greatest risk of all is never taking any risks" is applicable here. Suffering is part of the experience -- and one thing can be said of it: after 0utward Bound, the rest of the world's troubles do not seem so severe. Since one faces the wilderness without the niceties of life, one realizes that survival is possible, if not optimal, without technology. This promotes a healthy attitude toward technology -- greater appreciation and less dependence. All in all, Outward Bound contributes to the individual strength of the participants in several ways.



Group competence is also developed. Participants depend on each other or their well being and even survival. It is not enough for one to do well; someone has to help others do well. Lessons like division of labor, especially given differential competencies, become important. As the course progresses, group problem solving becomes essential. Inevitably, as lives become intertwined, communication and conflict resolution skills must develop more quickly than usual.


The less competent are not looked down upon, because even their reduced level of performance may be necessary for the group to achieve its objectives. When members get discouraged, someone must get them going again. Thus, leadership opportunities abound. Because the group is small and faced with ominous conditions, superficial characteristics of people fade into the background. Thus, some of the intolerance and close-mindedness of adolescence is necessarily by-passed in such a system.



The members of the group get to know each other very well -- sometimes they might feel too well. All this interaction aids in getting to know oneself through the eyes of others, therefore, providing for accurate self-knowledge. If the group is culturally diverse, then the identities formed would be richer and more profound than those developed without such an experience.



The "solo" is a three-day stint in isolation in some natural setting, and is a part of every Outward Bound experience. It comes late in the course. It is a chance to feel oneself outside the hustle-bustle of social interaction. It promotes self-awareness. It is a period of contemplation, and a chance to ask what one has learned, and who one wants to be--again strengthening identity development.



Outward Bound, thus, has much to contribute in the areas of individual strength, identity, system competence, and, probably, purpose. This does not mean that it is a necessary experience, but it is a source of good ideas. Perhaps most interesting is the use of stressful conditions to by-pass the tendency to base one's identity on superficial qualities.







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Transcultural Friendship: Our Political Future


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