The World Has Been On Solo

From across the globe, as we come together on Zoom calls, humanity is expressing its hunger for connection. Empty cafes, boarded up businesses and deserted interstates are the pictures of today. For most in the modern world, time spent alone ranges from rare to non-existent. And even as we shelter in place many of us are surrounded with a digital web that connects us with friends and acquaintances near and far.

In our modern world, thinking of being alone often creates anxiety. We fill up our day with Netflix streaming, home projects and Facebook feeds. Even when we are alone physically we are not disconnected. But maybe we should be.

Solo is a critical component of an Outward Bound experience. A course is typically divided into stages--the training stage, where skills are learned and norms established; the main expedition, where more and more responsibility is transferred from the instructors to the crew; and final, where the group functions on its own with the Outward Bound leaders serving as a safety net. 

Outward Bound experiences are intense--by design. Born during World War II and designed as "the moral equivalent of war," Outward Bound courses build resilience, compassion and service to others through extreme adversity. The stress of living in the wilderness, usually with a group of complete strangers, and traveling through unfamiliar terrain via map and compass are out of the comfort zone for nearly everyone. Throw a day of rock climbing or a challenge/ropes course into the mix and living 24/7 with a group of strangers, and it's easy to see why the experience pushes most people. 

Solo is typically scheduled between the main and final expeditions. And it serves multiple purposes

  1. It's an emotional break. The crew has been together around the clock in extremely stressful conditions. Solo provides a respite from the group dynamics and daily challenges.
  2. It's rest. Legs, back, shoulders--everything usually aches when you are the source of daily propulsion for yourself and your crew. Solo is a time to rest your body and mind before the big final expedition. 
  3. It's a time for reflection. Of all these purposes, reflection is among the most important. During the fullness and busyness of a course, crew and instructors are going 24-7. Solo allows us to process what has happened--and to look for the places where we can transfer that learning to our lives. 
  4. It's preparation for what comes next. 

Let's think about #3 and #4 for a moment. When groups come off of solo, they debrief their experience. They celebrate a meal together, a true "breaking the fast" that nourishes the body, mind and spirit. Whether after hours or days, coming back from solo is a reaffirming experience:

This is my crew. I am a member. I belong. And we have one more expedition to do--to finish together. 

How will you come off of your solo? Will you simply return to the "status quo?" Are you prepared to take on that "final expedition?" As human beings we have been on pause, on our solo. But the greatest challenges are still before us: 

  • Human-caused climate change is a coming class V rapid that makes the covid-19 pandemic look like a class II pool-drop. Where I live in Hawaii 60% or more of the coral reefs are dead. Snorkeling above them is like the scene in the movie Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I, when Katniss Everdeen returns to her home, District 12 to see it decimated, lifeless and smoldering. Coral reefs protect land and create the foundations of healthy marine ecosystems. According to the United Nations ten percent of the world's population depends on fisheries for their livelihood and fifteen percent depend upon it for their primary source of food. Our fisheries are collapsing, and this is just one of the calamities facing humanity unless we start changing our world--NOW. Two-thirds of all major cities in the world are on coasts, putting hundreds of millions of people's homes at risk to sea level rise.
  • Covid-19 has unmasked the racial, social and financial inequities in the United States. It is unconscionable that a nation founded on a principle that all are created equal continues to fall so short of that ideal. Racial and gender inequality are a blight on our country. Equity, diversity and inclusion must be at the forefront of all we do moving forward. We will never become the nation we purport to be until we move beyond the white privilege and gender bias that limits and punishes more than half of our population. 
  • Workplaces must be overhauled. There is a nascent movement of leaders who have recognized that paying a living wage and empowering workers lead to a more successful workplace. Unfortunately that movement is currently small, and as consumers we continue to purchase products made in countries like China where labor is cheap and workers are afforded none of the human rights that our country expects. We need to shop with our conscience, not just our pocket books. The best business models recognize that financial success and respect for people and the planet are not mutually exclusive. It's time for us to change business for the benefit of all.
  • Access to quality education is paramount to the future of humanity. We could accomplish all of the above three areas in one generation if we invested in quality education for everyone. Outward Bound has been a leader in educational reform, and we must do more. 

One generation--that's all we need to achieve a better world. And unless we accept the responsibility now before us one generation may be all that we have.  You're coming off solo. What will you choose to do? Go back to the status quo, or join a crew dedicated to leading the world onto a better path?

The covid-19 pandemic has created an invitation for you; to join in making a safer, healthier and more just world. Your "final expedition" is about to begin. You are needed. To quote former President Barack Obama's recent "Graduating Together" commencement speech: "So if the world's going to get better, it's going to be up to you."





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