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John Eggers: Lessons from a deer camp on how to get along together

An interesting thing happened to me at the deer cabin last weekend.

Before I go out for the hunt each morning, I do what my mother taught me to do: I brush my teeth. Because our deer cabin is small and we had six bodies inside bumping into each other, I took my shaving kit outside in the dark. I put some toothpaste on the brush, poured a little bottled water on the brush and began to brush.

“Gee,” I said to myself, “this tastes funny.” I quickly realized that rather than grabbing the toothpaste out of my kit, I had grabbed my tube of athlete’s foot cream. It was a great story to tell the cabin boys, and I have had no problem with fungus in my mouth since.

The key to any successful organization is how well the people in the organization get along with one another. Deer camps have a novel way of getting people together. The lessons learned there could help people who are looking for ways to solve big problems. Let’s see, who could use some lessons on how to get together to solve problems? I know, how about our leaders in Washington.

The president and the Congress have their work cut out for them. I have no doubt they will get it done if they can do one little thing. They first have to get along with one another. Lessons learned from a deer camp can help.

I don’t think everyone needs to brush their teeth with athlete’s foot ointment, but just sitting around and telling stories is a fun, relaxing way for people just to get to know one another better. I think our politicians forgot that their jobs were supposed to be enjoyable. They were supposed to get to know one another, do things together and just have a good time. This is how organizations thrive.

One of the stories told at the deer camp was about a woman who gets on a bus with her baby. The bus driver says: “Ugh, that’s the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen!” The woman walks to the rear of the bus and sits down, fuming. She says to a man next to her, “The driver just insulted me!” The man says, “You should go right up there and tell him off. Go on, I’ll hold your monkey for you.”

The first rule of getting along is just to be nice to one another. It’s been an ugly campaign with lots of name-calling. A therapist tells his patient that he has a preoccupation with vengeance. The patient replies, “Well, we’ll see about that.” I hope our leaders wouldn’t feel a need for vengeance, to get even. If they do, nothing positive will happen.

My father hunted with us, probably for the last time. At the age of 95 and on Sunday after the opening day, he bagged his deer at 107 yards. He had not shot a deer for 10 years.

One of the things groups need to solve problems is tenacity. We are at a point in the United States where throwing in the towel is no longer an option. Our leaders have to stay with it and when they do, positive things will happen.

At our group meal on Friday night before opening day, we ate eight squirrels. If you have never eaten squirrel cooked in the oven for about four hours, you are missing one of the delicacies of life. I am not kidding when I say there is probably no other better-tasting game food. Eating together is always a good way to start or end a day.

Here’s a thought. What if before every congressional day, the members would meet at around 6:30 in the morning and have breakfast seated at round tables with about eight at each table? Every morning the seating would be different. After doing this every morning for two or three months, don’t you think the attitude towards one another would be one of camaraderie? Eating together is always a win-win activity.

A priest, a rabbi and a vicar walk into a bar. The barman says, “Is this some kind of joke?”

At the end of each breakfast, someone at the table would have to tell a joke. After eating and laughing, then they could get down to work. Jokes work for Rotary, for Lions, for Toastmasters and at deer camps. They can work for our leaders in Washington as well.

The other day a CEO sent each board member a huge pile of snow. He called each one and said, “Did you get my drift?”

When Lyndon Johnson was president, one of his strategies was using the phone relentlessly. He would be on the phone constantly talking to senators, representatives and governors to make sure they were getting his “drift.” I would hope that President Obama would do the same.

My brother always provides each of us with a walkie-talkie to do just what Lyndon Johnson did. It’s just a good idea to check up on each other. As a result, we have a safer hunt.

Another joke told at the deer camp was about a man who walks into a psychiatrist’s office and says, “Doc, I can’t stop singing the ‘Green Green Grass of Home.’” The doctor replies, “That sounds like Tom Jones syndrome.” “Is it common?” the man asked.

“It’s not unusual,” the doctor replied.

What would be unusual would be if every politician, before assuming office, would be required to spend a few days in a deer camp with his or her colleagues. Sometimes when everything else fails, it’s time to try the unusual. This may be the time.


JOHN R. EGGERS of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.