Keystones of a Scout: The 10 Virtues that Make a Scout | Honor


[Note: This is a long post. But I believe it is perhaps one of the most important that I have written on this blog. Please read it when you have the time to read the whole thing through and think about it. If you have any thoughts on this in agreement or disagreement, please tell me about it in a comment!]


A short time after this blog was started, I introduced a series known as the “Keystones of a Scout” series. This series was on the 10 virtues that make a Scout a Scout; the 10 qualities that every Scout of any age should strive for and which set him apart from everyone else.

Screenshot from 2013-03-14 23_58_20The reason I started this series goes straight to core philosophy of Scouting as I have come to understand it. It is why “Scouting Rediscovered” exists. What is there to rediscover? Scouting exists today and is a reality for more boys today than it was for much of Scouting’s history. Is is more talked about than ever before and there are more Scout camps around the world than there ever were before. So what is it that I want to “Rediscover”?

Well, in my brief but very intensive experience in Scouting, I have come to the conclusion that there was something missing in many of the Scouts and Scout Troops I saw. Not all, but many. I couldn’t quite define it, but this feeling grew on me the more I read about Scouting’s history and read the writings of great Scouts of the past. Finally, as I thought about it more, I came to realize what was missing: the Scouting Vision.

The program is there, but the vision is gone. The program works, it lasts for a while. But it’s like a wind-up clock: without the vision keeping it focused and energized, it slowly runs out.

Screenshot from 2013-03-09 23_21_48I really wanted to know this vision. Unfortunately, it’s not something that can be spelled out in a few sentences. As a vision, it is something living that grows and develops. It’s a wild idea that forms in your mind’s eye and captivates it.

It’s a spirit; it’s an irrepressible desire for certain ideals.

Of course it isn’t all so black and white as that. The Scout Spirit isn’t something that is either completely there or completely isn’t. It exists in varying degrees. Using the writings of the past as a standard, I looked around and realized that in Some Troops, Patrols, and Scouts; there is quite a bit of Scout Spirit. But in far too many groups, I didn’t see what I thought I should based upon what I had learned.

That is what Scouting Rediscovered is about. It’s about rediscovering the Scout Spirit. Being affiliated with a Scouting Organization doesn’t make you a Scout. Attending or leading a Scout Troop doesn’t make you a Scout. What makes you a Scout is the Scout Spirit. It’s the spirit that becomes part of your identity and affects the decisions you make.

For that reason, I consider this the most important series that I have written on this blog. I am using these ten virtues or qualities to do my best to define what this spirit looks like. The ten virtues I have covered so far have been: Endurance, Self-Discipline, Exploration, Observation, Initiative, Deduction, Ingenuity, Chivalry, and Duty.

Today I want to talk about the final Keystone: Honor.

What is Honor?

Honor as a concept has been much used yet little defined. If, right now, you had to give a short definition of what exactly the concept of honor means, would you be able to? We talk a lot about being honorable, etc., but we don’t really talk about what it means other than giving it adjectives such as: integrity, trustworthiness, honesty.

Honor is a Reality of a Group

Screenshot from 2013-02-19 20_05_41The truth is, honor deals directly with how we relate with a group that we are in. The two basic type of honor are horizontal honor and vertical honor.

Horizontal honor is maintaining our standing in a group of equal peers. Think, for instance, if you passed a test by cheating. The teachers never knew, but word got spread around the classroom. You would be considered a “cheater” by the rest of the students who passed the test honestly. In other words, you will have lost your honor and be disgraced. That is an example of horizontal honor.

Vertical honor depends upon and works within horizontal honor. Vertical honor is the respect and esteem of your peers when you go above and beyond. In the school analogy, you get Vertical honor when you are voted ‘most likely to succeed’ by your classmates. It means your reputation is higher among the group as a result of something you did.

It all depends upon your reputation in the group in relation to the standards and ideals your group holds. That leads to the next point about honor:

An Honor Group Must Have Common Ideals

Screenshot from 2013-04-30 05_41_36In order for a group to work, the members must have something in common. Otherwise, there would be nothing with which to judge an individual’s standing in the group. In the classroom example, the classroom group shares in common that the virtues of hard work and a friendly personality are good things. In an illegal gang, however, the things that the members esteem might be toughness and the “untouchable-bad-dude” attitude. The things that would make one student voted “most likely to succeed” by his class, would make him look like a no-good “sissy” among the gang.

You see, we all strive to be honored. It seems to be hard-wired into our nature. That why peer pressure make us do crazy things that we never would’ve done otherwise. That can be a good thing or a bad thing. I’m sure some of the most heroic and great acts of history came about partly because of peer pressure. On the other hand, peer pressure is partly responsible for some of the most terrible acts ever done.

What makes all the difference in peer pressure is what group you associate yourself with. What ideals does that group have? Whatever they are, peer pressure will be motivating you to conform to them.

How does Honor fit into Scouting?

That said, it’s pretty easy to see how honor fits into Scouting. Honor in Scouting has always been considered one of the most important aspects of a Scout. Baden-Powell wrote in ‘Scouting for Boys’:

“The most important thing that the Scoutmaster has to teach his boys is to understand and to possess the sense of Honor.”

An earlier pamphlet on the Patrol System states:

“A Troop without honor and a sense of its responsibilities will not contribute anything worthwhile to the development of its individual members, or to the Movement as a whole.”

The Scout Patrol/Troop is an Honor Group

A 1938 Pamphlet on the Patrol Method published by the B.S.A. states this:

Selection_019“Street gangs, although taking up from time to time various activities, usually have some particular objective in which they are primarily interested. This prime objective may be baseball, going on trips, or -in bad gangs- stealing. In Scouting, the Patrol projects will be some special phase of the Scout program, such as hiking, swimming, Merit Badge work, first aid, nature collections, pioneering, etc. If this specialization is a spontaneous product of the boy-group it is usually resultful.

The Patrol provides from within itself the stimulus which will spur its members on to advancement through the Scout ranks. Most gangs have one leader, who takes his position naturally with little form or ceremony. The unpardonable offense is “squealing” or “snitching” on a fellow gang-member. This gang loyalty and gang honor, Scouting expands into the principles of the Scout Oath and Law.

The typical boys’ gang, then, is no mere haphazard association. Accidents of various sorts — age, propinquity, likeness of interests-bring together a somewhat random group. Immediately the boys react on one another. One or more leaders come to the fore. The gang organizes itself, finds or makes its meeting-place, establishes its standards, begins to do things.

Screenshot from 2013-04-30 05_39_13It develops, in some sort, a collective mind, and acts as a unit to carry out complex schemes and activities which would hardly so much as enter the head of one boy alone. The gang is, in short, a little social organism, coherent, definite, efficient, with a life of its own which is beyond the sum of the lives of its boy members.”

This is one of the reasons why the Patrol System is so necessary today. Without a permanent Patrol, you lose the whole aspect of the immediacy that comes with having a small group of six to eight guys that you work with side by side in all of your Scouting pursuits.

Patrol groups give common accountability. One for all, and all for one. They can do all of their Scouting together and have to face all the challenges and benefits of having to deal with interpersonal relationships. In other words, the Patrol is an honor group. In a similar but slightly lesser way, so is the Troop.

The Scout Oath/Law is a Common Ideal

Selection_012As we know, in order to form a real honor group, you must have a common ideal. The Patrol can’t be just a random group of boys, they must have a common base to work from. This doesn’t mean they will have common personalities or common tastes. But it is absolutely necessary that they all believe the Scout Oath and Law and all look as these things in the same way as applicable to their everyday lives.

That is the most basic requirement for being a Scout. Out of the Scout Oath and Law, everything else starts to fall into place. Scouting is for every boy who believes and want to follow the Scout Oath and Law. While we wish every boy would, sadly some will not, and Scouting isn’t for them.

The group, simply to exist as a group, must have that common base of ideals to bind them together. It shows them what behavior is honorable and what behavior is dishonorable.

Why Honor is Necessary to Both a Scout and His Group

The January 1933 edition of Boys’ Life Magazine says this about a Scout’s Honor:

Screenshot from 2013-07-26 00:55:56“A boy’s honor is the boy himself. Since the dawn of civilization, men have held their honor as their dearest possession. Many have died to keep it. In these days few are called upon to die for their honor, but everyone should live for it. Every day our honor is tested in small ways. The boy who refuses to cheat in an examination, who speaks the truth, who is punctual in his habits and who always keeps his promises, proves that he can be trusted on his honor.

Loyalty is involved in honor, loyalty to friends, to school, to parents, to principles which you know to be right. Honesty is a form of honor. If you play a game, play squarely. Never take unfair advantage of someone else. The faithful performance of everyday duties is based upon honor, not only what we do, but the spirit in which we do it.

This involves a fundamental part of honor, that other part of the Scout Oath, “I will do my best.” No success is really an achievement unless you have accomplished it with every ounce of energy in you. On the other hand, no matter what the outcome may be, if you do your best you have accomplished something really worth-while. No one but yourself can judge you in this respect. Your effort is a matter of honor.”

This is why Honor is a Scout Keystone. Scouting gives the standards. The rules and ideals are written down in the Scout Oath and Law. But unless a boy promises to live by these principles On His Honor, then there is no Scout.

This promise means that he is affiliated with that group. Those principles are bound up in his core, they are his own. When he breaks these or falls short, he is dishonored. When he goes above and beyond in upholding these, he is honored. That is a driving motivator to live by.

When you honestly take the Scout Oath and Law, you are part of an honor group. That group becomes part of your identity. It is that important. If you are a Scout, the word “Scout” is part of your very identity!

It is for that reason why when I see Troops filled with boys who are Scouts only as long as they are wearing the uniform and ‘playing the game’, yet that disappears when they take off the uniform and go home; I know that Scouting needs to be Rediscovered.

That why Scouting isn’t simply a “boys fun and improvement” club. It’s not like being a part of a baseball team or a camping club. Scouting is not just a part of your life, Scouting is a part of you.

How to Build Honor in a Scout Troop

Screenshot from 2013-03-09 23_24_11Building and rediscovering this sense of Honor in a Scout group is an art. Unfortunately, that means that it can’t be accomplished by flicking a switch or following a “one, two, three” set of rules. Fortunately, though, it means that it is something that gets better with time, effort, and practice. All little different aspects of the Scouting program can contribute to building this sense of honor. I do, however, have a couple of suggestions that stick out to me:

1. Concentrate on the Patrol. You can’t have a strong sense of honor among mere acquaintances; they must be comrades. Learn about the Patrol Method and work toward putting it into practice more and more in your Troop.

2. Establish a Patrol Leader Council. This council used to be called the Court of Honor. This was for good reason. You can find out more about the traditional “Court of Honor” here.

3. Build Character through Deliberate Enthusiasm. It’s contagious!

4. Build Character by having a challenging and worthwhile program.

5. Above all, be patient and persistent. Whether you are just a single member of a Boy Scout Patrol or you are a Senior District Commissioner, you can make a huge impact in the Rediscovery of Scouting through a passionate application of Patience and Persistence.


If you have gotten down through the whole post, you probably either like what you’re reading here, or you think it’s way off the mark. Either way, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment in the box below telling what you think!

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Thank you for reading. And thank you for being passionate about Scouting!

Scout On!


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