Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A scout's virtues

In the Atlantic, John Tierney, a professor and author, writes about the Boy Scouts. The article itself is interesting but it's some introductory remarks that Tierney makes that just staggered me.
I knew early on that I wasn't cut out for the Boy Scouts. I was a Cub Scout for only a year in elementary school before the reality was clear to me: Those worthy attributes mentioned in the Scout Law were beyond my reach. 
And now, more than a half-century later, those virtues are also beyond my memory. So, with my addled brain unable to call up the Scout Law from its dark, gray recesses, I Googled it. What I found rings a bell: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” To me, that sounds more like an aspirational statement than a law, but who's to say?! Whatever you call it, that set of traits is still beyond my reach.
Still beyond his reach?! Brave I can see someone having doubts about in that there is a subjective aspect to bravery such that a person might always think they should be braver than they are. But even there, I think that it is easy to set a standard of bravery that any man who wishes to call himself a man should live up to.

To say, as Tierney does, that those virtues are beyond your reach is more a statement of intention than of aspiration. There is no reason a high-achieving adult like Tierney couldn't attain all those virtues. I'd even go so far as to say there is no reason he shouldn't. Yes, they are something to aspire to but they should all be easily achievable. When Tierney says he can't, he really means that he won't.

What's more, I suspect Tierney would, were he called on this, easily change his rhetoric and begin arguing for why it should not be expected that anyone should attain these virtues. I suspect I could even guess what some of his arguments would be.

My relationship with Cubs was about as short-lived as Tierney's but for different reasons.  After a year and a bit in the Cub Scout Pack at Saint Dunstan's it became painfully obvious that the women running the show weren't serious and that we were never going to get to do anything adventurous. So I bailed and found my adventure elsewhere. Since then, I've met others who had experiences with Cubs and Scouts. Some had experiences like mine. Others were lucky enough to join organizations that had serious, knowledgeable leaders who created opportunities for adventure and learning.

Lately, I've been reading the 1911 Scout's Handbook. It got me wondering, what would it be like to set out today to attain all the skills, knowledge and virtues that were required of a scout of that era? I'm not sure what they are just yet but I am going to make it my project to find out.

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