As a farm kid and 4-H’er, summer meant a week at Camp Ohio. Some of my best memories were formed at that camp and during my 10 years as a proud member of the Chili Challengers 4-H club. The Chili (pronounced “chai-lie” not like the Skyline specialty) Challengers recited the 4-H pledge before every meeting. We dutifully hit the four “H”’s of head, heart, hands and health. In this strange, troubled summer of 2020, I find myself returning to this pledge.
Unlike my box of dusty ribbons from the Coshocton County fair, the pledge still seems relevant. And as I revisit its simple call to action, I am no longer focused on competitions, but on becoming a better person. And since the pledge spans club, community, country, and world I think it is an instructive way to look at things.
I pledge my head to clearer thinking This first line for student me meant organizing homework, track practice and other after school activities. It was all scheduling and checklists with a goal of getting into a good college. My mom would probably say I achieved most of this with a decent amount of teen drama included.
Adult me still makes lists, but my interest has broadened into how I think—what unconscious biases do I bring to situations or how does siloed perspective influence my actions / inactions. So, if clearer thinking is the goal maybe this is an opportunity to broaden my perspective. Read more from news sources I do not normally check. Be ok with not knowing all the answers, but instead pursue the right questions to more understanding, shedding easy conclusions to complex issues.
My heart to greater loyalty Hmm. As a kid I thought this was sticking up for your friends, family, and school. Defending against all perceived enemies in the hallways of Ridgewood High School. Cheering against the hated Riverview Black Bears any chance we got.
My loyalty circle still includes friends and family but also my employer and nonprofit boards where I serve. My new club is bigger than the Chili Challengers, but I wonder how I could do better. A bigger circle? Or maybe as a member of a privileged circle, I could extend my loyalty to others. Start challenging my own biases and those of my circle when we make assumptions about political, racial, gender or religious differences. Blind loyalty is not greater loyalty. There work to be done here.
My hands to larger service Thanks to the excellent lessons from our club advisors Mike and Janet Miller, we Challengers created a community flower bed, “adopted” a grandfather, Christmas caroled and delivered groceries to needy families. I did not think what we did was charitable, I just thought it was fun and made things prettier and people happier. Simple. Kid me rocked this. Adult me falls into the cult of “busy” too often. Or I think that my board service to various nonprofits covers it. Or donating treasure but coming up short on donating time and talent. I want to experience the fun and pleasure of hands on helping again. And thanks to the pledge, I see how much I miss that. There is work to be done and fun to be had.
And my health to better living Health and nutrition wove their ways into my 4-H cooking projects and my spot on the Nutrition Quiz Bowl team (we were a force). I learned about ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into my diet and experimented on my family with mostly good results. Thanks to these lessons, I still love cooking and keeping my body strong through regular exercise and lots of time outside. But what does “better living” mean outside my own home? I think it could mean caring about walkable neighborhoods and safe playgrounds for everyone. Or sustainable recycling programs in all neighborhoods. Educating myself about the alarming infant mortality rate in Ohio and finding ways to help others find that “better living” promise too.
For my club, my community, my country, and my world The last line is big. Bigger than I thought as a scrawny 10 year old. Bigger now than my zip code. Moving beyond the confines of a comfortable place means getting uncomfortable. I want to stop glossing over ugly parts of my country and know that healthy criticism and critical thinking do not diminish my love of country. Instead, it contributes to making a great country greater for everyone.
And finally, my world is no longer just my backyard. It is trying harder to understand global dynamics, interdependence and how different cultures enrich our humanity. When everything seems overwhelming, I can start with my head, heart, hands, and health to try harder. And an excellent slice of homemade pie never hurts either.