Friday, February 25, 2011

Don't read the map, read the terrain

Okay, one final parable to finish off the week's discussion of Things You Shouldn't Say To Unbelievers:

I was... I don't know, fourteen or fifteen when I finally decided that I'd had enough of the Boy Scouts. There were a lot of things that contributed to the decision, but there was one particular incident that served as the tipping point.

It was a camping trip. I don't remember (if I ever knew) the location, but it was a reasonably woodsy area. The landscape was not so much hilly as it was a series of ridges and valleys. A couple of the adults had hiked in a week or two earlier and found a good place to camp, which they had helpfully marked on the topographic map. A week later, our scout troop hiked in for a weekend campout.

Thus it was that my best friend and I found ourselves standing on the top of a ridge, holding the topographic map, while our Scoutmaster stared perplexed at his compass. Being thus engaged, we glanced at the map, studied the landscape, and looked at the map again. So, given the shape of the hill and the presence of that creek over there, we must be standing on this ridge, right about here where it turns. That would mean that the campsite is...

"It's over there," I said, gesturing off to the right.

"Can't be," said the Scoutmaster, barely looking up from his compass.

"Look," I showed him the map. "If we're here, then the campsite is there." I pointed about eighty degrees to the right of the direction he was facing.

"No, no, it's this way," he insisted. Then he boldly led us forward, and completely failed to find the campsite. Needless to say, I was not especially surprised by this. We made camp anyway.

Much later, he came striding back and loudly announced that he'd found the spot where we were originally supposed to camp. He conspicuously failed to mention that he'd found it exactly where my friend and I had said it would be. I was, of course, not the least bit irritated by this. Who would be? Nevertheless, I withdrew from the Boy Scouts soon after.

As you might expect, there's a moral to this story. If you want to keep people in your organization, try not to be an utter prat. Well, okay, that wasn't really what I had in mind, since it was the conversation with the Misguided Christian over on Ken Pulliam's old blog that reminded me of this incident. So maybe there are two morals. Anyway, here's my point:

Your compass may be in perfect working order, and your map may be correct in every conceivable detail, but if you're not looking at the terrain you're still going to get lost.

Also, while you're at it, try not to be an utter prat.

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