“On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country; to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; and to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”
It may be a few years since I’ve been a Boy Scout, but I still remember the Scout Oath by heart. Since “crossing over” from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts when I was 11, I lived that motto for seven years until I turned 18: the cut-off age for being a Boy Scout. Those seven years were a whirlwind of emotions, memories, people, and experiences I’ll remember for years to come.
Since I’ve already recited the Scout Oath by memory, it’s only proper I follow up with the Scout Law. For any of you who were ever in the Boy Scouts, you may repeat after me: A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
Trustworthy: A Scout is expected to be honest and trustworthy.
Back when I was 16 or so, I was on a weekend camp-out somewhere and one of the other Scouts a few years younger than I was being just a complete thorn in my side. He would not listen to anyone and was hell-bent on trying to enrage me. He succeeded when he managed to lock me in a campsite outhouse for a half-hour. Once the door flew open, all I could see was red. I found him, grabbed him, lifted him up and threw him on the ground headfirst. Once he started wailing in pain while convulsing on the ground, I knew that I was more or less screwed. So, with Scout sense kicking in, I immediately fessed up what happened to the closest Scoutmaster…and didn’t get in trouble. In fact, the only thing that really happened that I recall was a brief troop meeting that reinforced that bullying is bad. Whether or not I got off lucky doesn’t matter; that was still a Scout being honest and telling the truth.
Loyal: A Scout is expected to be loyal to his friends, family, teachers and troop.
All I can really say about this is that it was an instinctual kind of point. I never felt like I had to switch Scout troops or schools, or felt like running away from home for any reason. Even now, the point resonates in my conscience by reminding me that my family and friends are of utmost importance over most anything else.
Helpful: A Scout is willing to volunteer to help others.
I’m sure a lot of people know of the old adage of the Boy Scout helping the elderly lady across the street. While I never did anything like that, I did participate in an array of service projects. One of the requirements for becoming an Eagle Scout, the highest rank achievable in Scouting, was to plan your own service project for the community and participate in it. While I must admit I never became an Eagle Scout and never planned my own project, I did take part in quite a few over the years. I can recall helping to repaint a fence enclosing a cemetery during my first year, and then helping to replant trees in a wildlife preserve a few years later during a separate project. That helped instill a desire to volunteer and the urge to help people out for the betterment of the community.
Friendly: A Scout is friendly to everyone, regardless of any factors.
While I don’t think I ever considered any other Scout during my time a bona fide friend, every single one was someone who was friendly to me and someone I could talk with. Camp-outs were often spent talking, laughing and generally having a good time with each and every one of them, regardless of age or experience. I felt like I belonged more to a large group of pals than a Scout troop at times. It was a great feeling.
Courteous: In addition to being friendly to everyone, a Scout is also polite to everyone.
Most of the time, everyone in the troop treated one another with respect and politeness, again regardless of age or experience. While I think respecting the Scoutmasters was definitely based off the primal feeling of “respect your elders,” the fact that dozens of teenage boys were more often than not respectful of one another was a miracle, and a showcase of following the Scout Law.
Kind: A Scout is gentle and treats other living things as he would also want to be treated.
When you’re out camping, you’re bound to see and experience a lot of local wildlife. Some of it, like birds and deer, are creatures that you observe from a distance and stay quiet around. Others are up close and personal: mainly the insects. However, aside from mosquitos that were swatted instinctively or the moths that would fly too close to our propane lamps and get zapped, insects were treated with the same gentleness and respect as larger, less “creepy” animals. That’s something I don’t think I’ve seen since on a large scale.
Obedient: A Scout follows the rules of his elders and obeys the law.
The leadership tree for a Scout troop usually goes like this: Scouts report to a patrol leader, a patrol leader reports to a senior patrol leader, and the senior patrol leader reports to the adult scoutmaster. There are also assistant leaders for each of those positions. Regardless of where you were on the totem pole, you followed the rules set forth by your superior. As pseudo-totalitarian as that sounds, most of them were pretty lax and I don’t recall there being any problems with any rules or leaders.
Cheerful: A Scout is optimistic and tries his best to make others happy.
I’ve always been an optimistic person generally, and Boy Scouts just reinforced that. With everyone around me being friendly, courteous, trustworthy and all the other qualities listed in the Scout Law, it was impossible not to be cheerful and enjoy camp-outs and Boy Scout meetings every time I attended one.
Thrifty: A Scout saves for the future, whether it is money or resources.
This, alongside Cheerful, is another instance of a value I may have already had but was reinforced by the Boy Scouts. I had my first summer job when I was 15 and could have easily blown through all that money on things I didn’t need or barely wanted just because I could. However, besides some big purchases like my current desktop computer at the end of my first summer working and my current laptop at the end of the second, I didn’t spend much money at all on anything. There was occasional video game or meal out with friends, certainly, but for the most part, I saved and spent wisely. The Scout Law certainly reinforced that.
Brave: A Scout can face danger and stand up for what he believes in.
While in Boy Scouts, I had to learn to do things I never thought I would have to before. You name it, I probably had to do it at some point, merit badge or otherwise: sleep outside in a tent, sleep outside without a tent, build and light a campfire, dive into water, kayak, dress a wound, make a splint, give a speech, go on a multi-mile hike, have a position of leadership, organize a meeting…the list goes on. Despite any fears or preconceived notions I had, I learned to do all of that and so much more.
Clean: A Scout is clean in both mind and body.
Keeping a clean mind as a teenage boy is one of the most difficult things anyone can do, but keeping a clean body was much easier since we all did that daily; as long as we weren’t “roughing it,” as they say. That idea of cleanliness extended beyond ourselves as well, to wherever we went. We always made sure that our campsite at the end of a camp-out was just as clean as when we had arrived, practicing the motto of “leave no trace.”
Reverent: A Scout is faithful to his religion and religious duties.
Confession time: I’m irreligious nowadays, bordering on agnostic. However, back when I was a Boy Scout, I was a Roman Catholic in a Catholic troop. As such, we always had a prayer before a meeting alongside the Scout Oath and Scout Law, as well as going to Sunday morning Mass if the option was available during a camp-out. We were, in essence, a troop devoted to God and our country, as the Oath outright states.
Those are the twelve points of the Scout Law – twelve points I always had in the back of my mind during my time in Scouting and subconsciously lived during my everyday life. I still live the majority of them now, even several years after having to leave my troop, because those twelve points are, in my opinion, among the twelve best characteristics a human being can have. Scouting may have taught me more than I can put into words, but those twelve points are an accurate representation of the values Scouting can teach absolutely anyone eligible.