Lessons on Life from the Hokey-Pokey
Story posted March 16, 2001
Marsha Johnson Evans, now head of the Girl Scouts of the USA, was walking down the street one day when she saw someone wearing a t-shirt stating: "What if the hokey-pokey is what it's all about?"
Scholars, mystics and poets have pondered over what life is about, and others have decided it's not about much of anything, but Evans decided it wasn't such a bad idea to learn a few life lessons from the hokey-pokey.
The first lesson the hokey-pokey teaches comes from its formation, she said — a circle.
The hokey-pokey is a game (or is it a dance?) of commands, and sometimes it can be confusing to know exactly what is meant by a particular command, but a quick look around at those playing the game with you, and you're back on track. Another reason for a circular formation, Evans said, is that it's more fun.
"We need other people in our lives," she said. Those people might be mentors, teachers, family friends. "Learning from other people doesn't take away from our individuality, but it helps shape it."
Making sure we each have a circle of people around us, people to rely upon and to learn from, people different from us, as well as similar to us, is important.
"The people in our circle don't even have to be alive," Evans said. One of her best mentors has been George C. Marshll, architect of U.S. military strategy in World War II and a head of the American Red Cross, who she has learned about and learned from through reading.
Back to the hokey-pokey. After each appendage has been put into and taken out of the circle, it is put in again, and then "you shake it all about." Not a difficult lesson.
"We need to dare to shake things up," Evans said.
Before she became national executive director of the Girl Scouts of the USA, Evans learned a lot about shaking things up during a 29-year career in the United States Navy. When Evans joined the Navy, it was 98% men, and for much of her career many jobs — combat jobs — were reserved by law for men.
"The law created, in my judgment, a de facto first team," Evans said. She had the opportunity to directly effect this situation in the wake of the Navy's "Tailhook" scandal. The Secretary of the Navy, in 1992, created a committee to develop a strategy to integrate women more fully into the Navy and to ensure that their contributions were valued. Evans was appointed to head the committee. She knew that to truly address equity in the Navy, the combat exclusion law had to be dealt with. To Evans's surprise, when the committee made a recommendation to change the law and backed the recommendation up with logical reasoning, the recommendation was accepted, and the law was changed.
At the end of the hokey-pokey, you are commanded to put "your whole self in." The final lesson of the game is commitment.
"Success belongs to those who are ready, willing and able to work hard," Evans said. "You can have opportunity fall out of the sky, but in the end, I believe that hard work is the true enduring characteristic of successful people."
To do these things — build a circle of support around us, be willing to shake things up, and willing to commit oneself, may seem easy, but it is something too few people do, Evans said.
Not a day goes by, she said, without her hearing someone complain about "the system" or how "they" are keeping him or her down.
"Success is not an accident," she said. "It takes courage; it takes strength; it takes vision; and most importantly it takes you taking charge of you."
Marsha Johnson Evans is the National Executive Director, Girls Scouts of the USA, an organization that serves 2.7 million girls. She spoke at a recent Common Hour.
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