Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A scout's virtues: helpful

This is the virtue that puts the "boy" in Boy Scout. Helpfulness is a boyish virtue. By that, I don't mean that men aren't helpful but rather that helpfulness is a virtue you work at during your youth.  Learning helpfulness as an adult male seems like learning to tie your shoes as an adult; it not only demands an explanation, it suggests that you are developmentally challenged.

But it only appears that way. For when we read the explanations provided in the 1911 Handbook, we realize that to be helpful meant a whole lot more then than the word does now.

The first discussion of a Scout's virtues (pp 8-10) actually gives little attention to helpfulness. You get the impression that it is not one of the capital-letter virtues. This is a little surprising given how much attention the good deed for the day gets. In popular understanding of Scouting, being helpful and doing a good deed every day are second only to "Be Prepared".

It is interesting that,there is no virtue to correspond to preparedness in the Scout Law. And yet, the motto is unquestionably at the heart of the scout virtues, even more so than being trustworthy. Here is a telling detail from the Handbook's explanation of what is required for preparedness.
To be prepared in body, by making himself strong and active and able to do the right thing, and then to do it.
Fans of the great Greco-Roman moral thinkers will recognize the philosophical approach here: what you can and do do is more important than what you think. It's also a very manly moral philosophy in that only a vigorous and strong man could reasonably be expected to live up to it.

How did such a manly idea become the wimpy, juvenile nonsense that the public perceives scouting to be about? Well, it's partly the fault of the scouting movement. The Wolf Cub pack I was part of in my youth was a very feminized culture. Our leaders were no different from kindergarten teachers; not one could have lit a fire or tracked an animal to save her life.

Now, we might wonder if there aren't certain inescapable pedagogical realities at work here. Scouts are boys after all and Cubs are very young boys. They need to be protected! Yes ... to a point.

When I was a kid there was an old Scout's Pathfinder Annual in the house. It, like every Pathfinder Annual of that era, had a feature on the scouts who had received the highest awards of scouting. Some of these were awarded posthumously! One that always stuck with me was the scout who jumped into a burning oil truck and drove it away from the house it had been making a delivery at. This could easily have been a posthumous award but wasn't as the boy leapt from the truck and ran away before the fire exploded to full force.

Would we teach a boy that sort of virtue today? Or would we teach him to save himself first?

Have a look at the wording on being helpful from the manual:
A scout is helpful: He must be prepared at any time to save life, help injured persons, and share the home duties. He must do at least one good turn to somebody every day.
There is a descending order of romance and bravery running from being prepared to save life and ending with help with chores around the house. But there is a lot that isn't being said because it didn't have to be. Helping around the house meant helping with the manly deeds, deeds that required hard work and strength. A scout might help his mother dry the dishes but the understanding was that the core of his helping would be doing many stuff with his dad. That's no longer true. As Robert Glover correctly notes, we men are now raised by women and that has been the case for a long time.

A big part of being a man today requires us to make a conscious break with our mothers and other teachers. We have to stop seeing being helpful as a way to fit in and be good little boys who are docile and easily controlled and see it instead as a way to establish our identity as men.

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