Cool vs. Excellent Counselor

Dan-Nichols-at-IvritEach year URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute has the pleasure of having Dan Nichols spend time with and perform for the camp. He attends programs, works with songleaders and helps duing staff orientation. A few summers ago, Dan worked with staff about what it means to be a cool vs. excellent counselor. Read what he shared with staff during the program below:

By Dan Nichols

The Culture of Cool

“Cool” is about me. How I look. How I sound. How I dress. How I present to the world. How I can have control. The “cool counselor” is focused on self. Attention to creating a detailed and nuanced outward presentation is often the first, last and only concern for the “cool counselor.”

One definition of cool as defined by Wikipedia: “Cool was once an attitude fostered by rebels and underdogs, such as slaves, prisoners, bikers and political dissidents, etc., for whom open rebellion invited punishment, so it hid defiance behind a wall of ironic detachment, distancing itself from the source of authority rather than directly confronting it.”

Cool is idealized by teenagers. Why?

Teenagers are new to navigating the invisible web of social rules and assumptions. While teens may be aware that they are headed toward life as an adult, they are often unsure how to walk that path. As a result, teens often feel like the underdog or the prisoner. This feeling of being trapped and lacking security often creates feelings of confusion and anxiety. “Cool” can serve as a shield from those feelings. “Cool” creates a distance, a separation. “Cool” is often a coping mechanism to gain control over an unknown social dynamic. “Cool” can create stability and composure in new social situations. Cool may help the individual navigate awkward or foreboding social interactions, but how can “cool” get in the way of our work as guides to children this summer?

What do our kids need to see in us?

Aloof? Close?
Separate? Connected?
Closed? Open?
Guarded? Brave?

What do we want to see in our kids?

The Excellent CounselorTrue LeadershipA Culture of Courage

A camp counselor is the model, the pattern, the blueprint, the standard, the touchstone, the measure, the example of what living a life with courage, joy, and empathy, looks like for their campers. The natural process of growing up is to discover ways to need our parents less. This necessary break can be challenging, painful and awkward. Here is one of the greatest gifts camp provides: Our campers sense that we’re just a few steps ahead of them on the journey away from the “mom and dad home” and out into “the real world.” Campers are longing for their counselors to deliver on what is all too often an unspoken promise: that we’ve got their backs and that we’ll help them find their way forward. If we divorce ourselves from that purpose; if we shroud ourselves in a cloak of coolness waiting for others to clear through the smoke of our separation we will have missed the real reason why we’re here: not just at camp, but on the planet: to be present and available to another human being. This type of work is in sacred partnership with God and our obligation to gather a world broken into so many pieces. There are few other places on earth that are as well suited for attempting and accomplishing this holy work. Most of us are here as a result of a guide stepping out of their own “culture of cool” and into our world. Take a minute and think of someone who did this for you. How were you changed? What did you discover about yourself?

Dan Nichols is a Jewish rock musician and founder of the band, E18hteen.

Cross-posted at URJ’s Goldman camp Summer Central Blog