Joseph Dillard, 10.11.2017
“Dear families and friends of students of Ocean College,
I am just back in Berlin after spending three weeks as coach for communication skills and conflict resolution on the Regina Maris. I am writing to share my personal observations about these young people and this voyage with you.
First, let me congratulate you on your confidence, wisdom, and willingness to spend your hard-earned money on your loved one in this way. I know it was not an easy decision for many of you, and I know that this project has only begun, and that there are risks and challenges ahead. However, regardless of the future, you can be proud of your decision to trust both your children and Ocean College, based on what I have seen and experienced so far.
Johan asked me to participate because he wanted to do whatever he could to insure that your student would have the skills necessary to resolve conflicts and communicate their needs in effective, respectful ways whiIe on this voyage. This was a very smart decision on his part, and the result of the unnecessary and completely avoidable chaos that he experienced over ten years ago when he was a participant on his own voyage.
My intention in participating was somewhat different. I not only wanted these students to have such skills for this voyage, but to learn powerful tools that could help them succeed in work, personal, and family relationships for the rest of their lives. I told them that I would teach them things that they would see no purpose for today, but that seeds would be planted; that they should take careful notes so that when challenges arose on the voyage, or in five, ten years from now, that they would have powerful tools that they could use to move beyond unnecessary drama, stress, misunderstanding, confusion, and hurt feelings.
I have worked with a broad variety of adolescents for all my professional life – some forty years. Most of these have had very serious problems with anxiety, like panic disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder, or with depression, like suicidal thoughts, or with self-esteem, like anorexia, or with problems with family, like fighting and disobedience, or with addictions of all sorts. Therefore, such adolescents and their families were something of my “normal.” Consequently, when I got to know this amazing group of 34 young people, I was astonished at how responsible, thoughtful, respectful, helpful, and kind they all were.
Many of the problems with young people – and perhaps those challenges you have had with your student – are situational. Change the situation, change the expectations, change the interpersonal dynamics, and an entirely new set of behaviors can emerge and flourish. This can produce a very positive or destructive result, depending upon the situation a young person is exposed to. I can tell you with confidence that you have exposed your student to an extremely positive set of circumstances and individuals that is bringing out the best in all of them.
These circumstances include constant teamwork, whether it involves raising and lowering sails, steering and navigation, cleaning the Regina Maris, cooking, or planning activities and meals. They are learning to deal with a wide variety of authority figures and personalities in healthy, mutually-respectful ways. Their daily routines also include confidence-building activities that involve diving in, whether one wants to do something or not, like getting up to stand watch at 3:00 AM. These students have already broken many habits and addictions of home life: use of cell phones, internet, computers, talking back, disrespect, procrastination, smoking, alcohol, drugs, or hanging out with peers that don’t have a sense of personal direction.
They are learning how to enjoy working and learning, as lifelong preferences. Their coursework teachers are excellent, and these students have the advantage of individualized instruction, in that individual lesson plans are drawn up for each. Therefore, whatever information deficits they have brought to the voyage will be addressed. Due to their personal relationship with their teachers, they will not only have a much greater opportunity to receive help with their learning, but to form a very positive and personal relationship with educators and the perspective of education as a life process. As a result, I have no doubt that they will not only not lag behind in their normal schoolwork when they return, but be better, more involved and successful students as a result of the high quality of education they are receiving on this voyage.
These students are having a lot of fun and show a great deal of mutual support and caring. There is joking, hugging, and general happiness, with no signs of discrimination, scapegoating, gossip, or relationship drama. I am not so naive as to think that such issues will not arise during the remainder of this voyage, but as they do, I am confident that both the students and staff now have the skills to deal with them quickly and effectively.
I have left a copy of one of my books, Waking Up, with them, as a reference that they can use to find more information about the various communication, stress management, and conflict resolution skills that I taught them, as well as many more that will be new to them.
Going forward, I want you to brainstorm with me about a long-term project, possibility, and proposal. These students are going to come off the Regina Maris as healthy, young adults who will make important contributions to Germany and the world in general. I have no doubt about that. In addition, they will be much more likely to make healthy choices in their relationships and to raise their children in an atmosphere of listening, respect, and emotional nurturance. These skills have been more than any parent could have hoped for until recently in the history of humanity. However, the world needs more. It needs a “new normal.”
What the world needs are more people who not only have such an amazing set of competencies, but know how to get in touch with what I call their “authentic self,” as differentiated from the social self that we form as a result of our exposure to our parents, family, peers, work expectations, and culture. Finding, growing, and staying in touch with our authentic self requires a different set of skills, and it requires a different kind of training. Such a path is not for everyone, but only for those who are not satisfied with fitting into society and fulfilling its expectations for what our society and culture defines as having a happy, productive life. While for many, that is more than enough, but the world is changing. Just as we can look back at our own lives and see how we have outgrown what we considered healthy and normal in previous decades, so in the future we will look back at today in a similar fashion. We can and need to not only do more, but be more.
Getting in touch with and living from one’s authentic self means learning how to let go of our normal strong identification with our thoughts and feelings, which while essential tools, can mask what is deeper and central. It is the difference between living as the winds of a hurricane, a metaphor for the activity of our daily lives and the incessant whirl of our thoughts and feelings, and the pervasive calm that exists at the center of all hurricanes, so vast that planes can fly around in them, undisturbed. Our authentic self is something like that, and when we find it, the stresses, tragedies and challenges of life, while real and addressed, do not reach us, do not hurt us at our core. As a result, we have resilience, confidence and inner peace that remains untouched.
For some years now, I have taught these skills to students at a wonderful spa, Toskanaworld, in Bad Sulza,Thuringia, near Weimar. I would like us to put our heads together and consider offering such trainings to students, in the months and years after their return, as well as their families, and Ocean College teachers and staff. These trainings are tailor-made for the needs of the particular participants, so I depend on your feedback for planning and shaping such experiences.
In just three short weeks your student has become family for me. I have told them all that I will be honored to have them contact me at any time for any issue or concern that they may have and that I am there for them. I feel the same toward you, upon whom they depend for their life support as they continue to grow in the years after the conclusion of this exciting adventure. Ocean College and its excellent staff are also part of my new, extended family, and I am committed to doing whatever I can to support its excellent work and to help it achieve its full potentials. Indeed, I cannot imagine a finer context in which an adolescent can learn the life skills they need to thrive all their lives.
Again, thank you for your trust in Ocean College and in me. If I can answer any specific questions you have about the first three weeks or about how your student is adapting to life on board, please contact me. I am at your service.”