--Boy Scout Law
Boy Scout: One who does everything according to the rules. --Urban Dictionary
The pinnacle of my life as a Scout came at the age of eight, when I won the Pinewood Derby in my local Cub Scout pack. The derby is a race, pitting hand built wooden cars against each another, the hope being that as boys compete, they also will learn about being a good sport and fair play. Me? I loved my winning trophy but soon thereafter the Scouts faded from my life.
Yet through the years I’ve grown to have a deep respect and admiration for the scouting movement, both for girls and boys. Scouting is one of the few American youth organizations remaining which works to build individual character and good citizens. That’s its central mission: to shape the values and ideals of young women and men, so that these future leaders can build a better nation and world. True: it’s been a bumpy few years for scouting. It’s struggled to be more inclusive of LGBT youth and adults and the number of kids in scouting is in decline. It’s tough to compete against the explosive proliferation of youth sports and a high tech screen filled world that kids call home.
But scouting carries on in its idealistic work, even when it finds itself caught up in the mud and muck and mess of our current political situation. Recently, the President addressed a crowd of 40,000 scouts and their parents at the Scouting Jamboree, an annual summer gathering. The Commander in Chief is the honorary head of the scouts and this speech is traditionally an opportunity for kids, volunteers and Moms and Dads to hear what has always been a non-partisan “rah-rah” speech, an address about American values, scouting and patriotism.
Until this year, when, in an odd, disjointed, bordering on rude, even obscene talk, the Tweeter-In-Chief went on a rant: about Washington, about his “enemies”, about New York City cocktail parties filled with “hot” guests, about the failure of Obamacare, about his disdain for the “fake media”, etc., etc., etc. Some cheered. Others booed. Most were just confused by the weirdness of the address. Of course the media picked up on it and created a firestorm, one so red hot that the Boy Scouts of America Chief Executive Michael Surbaugh was forced to apologize: “We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting program.”
Call me a “Boy Scout” if you will, but I think this train wreck of an event embodies so much of what is going wrong, going south, and maybe even fast going away, in America. Things like civic ideals and civic values. Remember? These are the hoped for character traits that are supposed to bind us together as a nation; ensure that we can and will flourish in community when we commit to acting in a certain way, in all of our public dealings, as citizens and neighbors and leaders.
Things like decency in language and behavior. Honor in all our relationships. Humility in triumph and defeat. Respect for the person on the other side of an issue. Trustworthiness when you commit to an agreement. Faith, in all its shapes and forms. Public service, not for personal gain, but for the common good. Service to others, in gratitude for the gift of freedom. Kindness to others, especially for those who struggle in this life. Patriotism, a sincere love for our country, in all its diversity and beauty.
The problem is that in our current culture—political, social, media—such “Boy Scout’ish” behavioral norms are often judged as naive at best, or impossible to practice, at worst. “Boy Scout” is now used as an ironic pejorative, a put down for one who is too idealistic and earnest. The easy thing would be to pin the blame for our current struggles on just one person or one political party, one ideology or one group of people, but the truth is we all own this societal challenge. We got to this point in our nation together.
And so we all are responsible, personally and communally, to reaffirm that to do the right thing is the right thing to do. To act with honesty and integrity in relationships is the way to live. Doesn’t matter if it’s at a Scout Jamboree or a vote in Washington, D.C., in a town meeting debate or at a discussion over the fence with a neighbor.
So please, yes, call me a Boy Scout. I still actually believe in America, that as Americans, we can do better and hold ourselves and our leaders to the highest of ideals and values.