The Value in Plunging Toilets by Brium

Posted On: Wednesday, February 22, 2017

An anecdote about servant leadership at camp

briumI’m going to start this off with a story.  It’s about plunging toilets, but I’ve left out the gory details, so fear not.  
I work right now as a nanny, to a busy single mom with two great kids.  One day, I was upstairs when the mom was trying valiantly to un-clog a toilet.  Finally, after several attempts, she sighed and turned to me, “I’m probably going to have to call a plumber.  I hate calling the plumber, because they just do exactly what I’ve been trying to do, except it works, and then I pay 100$.”  

I looked at her, then at the toilet.  “Want me to have a go?  I’m pretty handy with a plunger.” She acquiesced, so I got to work, doing what Little Dipper and ASAP so patiently taught me.  When I announced that I’d fixed it, my boss’s reaction was so overjoyed as to prompt her oldest daughter to come out of her room and ask why her mom was so excited about an un-clogged toilet.  
I like to tell this story because I think it’s a little bit funny, but mostly because I think it’s such a great illustration of the value of some of the less-expected - and typically undervalued - things you learn at camp.  It’s also a product of one of the things I love most about staff culture at Cairn. 

As I alluded to, I was only able to step in and save the day in this instance because I learned to plunge toilets at camp.  If you’ve never been on staff at Cairn, it may surprise you slightly to know that learning how to plunge a toilet is a mandatory part of staff training.  And that is something that I love about camp.  Not the act of plunging toilets, obviously (it’s not the most fun, although it is mighty satisfying when you’re successful).  No, what I love is the culture that it signifies.  We teach staff to plunge toilets at Cairn, because if you encounter a clogged toilet, you are expected to try to fix it yourself before going to tell someone on maintenance.  And that’s not just true of toilets - paper towel empty?  Something left where it shouldn’t be?  Overflowing dish pit?  Puke on the bathroom floor?  Messy ‘slounge? Guess whose job it is - yours.  At Cairn, we have a big, beautiful site that requires lots of care and attention to keep it running smoothly, and because we don’t have a big maintenance staff (and unlike some bigger camps, no housekeeping staff) it’s up to all of us to do the little jobs that keep our beloved place running.  Ultimately, it’s a required practicality, but I also think it’s a pretty beautiful embodiment of Servant Leadership.  No one is above any job, and we all pitch in.  I think that’s pretty great.  

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