One of my first jobs after college was with the Girl Scouts. My title was Field Advisor. The fact that I had been a scout helped land me the job, but I certainly didn’t expect scouts in 1971 to be anything like what they were in the 1950’s when I had said my first Brownie Promise. But guess what: they hadn’t.
I worked at the United States headquarters which was in New York City, where I lived. The building was a swanky high-rise on the East Side, but once you got past reception, it became less swanky. There was a mountain of boxes of Girl Scout cookies left over from the previous year’s sale, which we could buy at a slightly reduced price.. The cookie sale was still a huge deal. The girl scout hierarchy were man haters, and had a particular grudge against the Boy Scout hierarchy who apparently felt the same way about them. It was reminiscent of junior high in that way. Cooties? Also, I had to purchase a Girl Scout Leader’s uniform which I was required to wear for our staff meetings. Every staff meeting began with us all standing and saying the Girl Scout Promise.”I promise to do my duty to God and country…”
I am not joking.
My job required me to take the subway to the far reaches of Brooklyn to meet with Girl Scout leaders in Sheepshead Bay, which was a middle class enclave with many troops meeting in churches and synagogues. The leaders were mostly mothers of scouts and who took the volunteer job because no one else would. They were all very nice and I enjoyed chatting with them. I was supposed to be helpful to them and to suggest ways to do new things. While they liked getting together and drinking coffee, however, they were not terribly interested in changing what they were already doing, which was crappy craft projects. A favorite was gluing macaroni onto cigar boxes and spraying them gold. There seemed to be a bottomless need for such boxes, as the craft was repeated often.
Don’t forget, however, that the year was 1971, the early days of a burgeoning Feminist Movement. I had long before burned my last bra and was founder of the Brooklyn Heights Consciousness Raising Group, which met in our apartment. Gloria Steinem Was our role model, and we had turned our backs on the ways of our mothers and were busy using hand mirrors examining our genitals looking for the way to the next step in our journey towards New Womanhood. In addition to the women’s movement, there was the awakening awareness of the impact of race and class and the struggle to “bring the boys back from Vietnam.” Everything was in flux, and it was an exciting time to be alive. So how was it possible that these Girl Scout leaders in Sheepshead Bay were so stuck in the past? Theirs was an opportunity to forge change in the world of the young women they were leading. But they didn’t.
I was determined to change all that. I got together with the woman who was chairman of the Psychology Department at Brooklyn College and discussed this disconnect with her. She was eager to help, and together we planned a seminar for Girl Scout Leaders to give them a push towards their own growth and encouragement to bring that awareness into the programming they did with their troops. We planned everything, bringing in other members of the Psych Department, and sent out invitations to scout leaders all over Brooklyn to join us at no cost.
Not one person signed up, and I was crushed.
I brought my concern to the next staff meeting. After the usual formalities, including standing to recite the Promise, I asked the group to help me understand what had gone wrong. “Isn’t everyone trying to change and grow?”
I was met with blank stares. Dagmar, my boss asked, “Do you really think that? No. Many people are satisfied with where they are.”
I was blown away. Satisfied? Not eager to change? To this day I have a hard time with the concept of stasis. My grandfather Malkin started a whole new career when he was in his eighties. Change was in my blood. But she was right. There are people who have zero interest in change.
I was talking about this same issue this week with Cliff Shulman, my physical therapist and body magician. He was a dancer in NYC and an arts educator with Lincoln Center before he studied PT. His thought is that certain people are Creative and others are Not. Creative people enjoy change, while many others hate it.
There you have it. While I have always believed that Life=Change, not everyone agrees. Others believe that complaisance=satisfaction. So maybe the world is flat after all. Who knew? Sadly, “I can’t get no satisfaction.”