Freedom and Responsibility

I didn’t realize that blue hair would be such a problem. It was the campers’ hair, not mine after all. It seems that the fashion world is more dangerous than I’d reckoned. As it turns out, it taught me a lesson in responsibility that I’m glad I know now. The story goes as such:

I work as a counselor at Camp Onas, an overnight Quaker summer camp in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, near Doylestown. It’s set in the midst of a great wood and there’s not a single housing development marring the view. The staff does a very good job of promoting Quaker values and teachings among the campers, and, as a Friend, I’ve always been impressed by how this place so easily integrates non-Quakers into a Quaker community. Children of all social and religious backgrounds seem to readily and positively respond to meeting for worship there, and since it is usually held outside I think it is a nice change of pace for the Quakers who attend.

They had recently built a new building called Dellview to house the infirmary and office. It has a porch on which the campers like to hang out. Keep in mind that this porch is new, fairly costly, and quite difficult to maintain. I was off duty and just wandering about when I noticed a gathering of my favorite campers on the porch. Apparently one of them had brought blue hair dye to camp, the kind that you just rub in and wash out. I didn’t think to stop them from dyeing their hair. Why should I? They had found a creative, nonpermanent way of expressing themselves. I saw it as a type of arts and crafts. Why not give them the freedom to explore for themselves the exact manner in which to express themselves, their Inner Light? I did make them go down to the barn sink to wash the stuff out so they didn’t get it all over the indoor bathrooms. The results were not quite what they hoped for, but that didn’t really matter.

What mattered was what happened when the other counselors (and the director) found out. One counselor was furious because she was responsible for two or three of the campers. They were mostly concerned with what the parents would think. I hadn’t considered that the parents of these kids might object to this. Shows me for assuming campers know what they’re doing! Apparently, some parents wouldn’t be pleased to find that their child had blue hair—go figure. Also, they had dripped a bit of blue dye on the porch and the maintenance crew had to use a power sprayer to get it off. All I got was a talking to by the director, but the kids got a few hours of the most frustrating and backbreaking labor the camp has to offer: raking the small rocks back onto the gravel roads. I learned that while it is important to allow children the freedom to discover for themselves how they wish to express their personalities, perhaps summer camp isn’t necessarily the right place to act on these decisions. Even if you’d rather not suppress their creative urges, if you are responsible for someone you’d better be sure that they don’t get in trouble. I also learned that hair dye, no matter how weak it is, takes a lot of effort to get off wood.