Initiative: It’s a great word, but it’s also a hard one too. What does it mean? Why is it a necessary virtue for a Scout to possess? In this post, I hope to answer these questions as I continue the series, Keystones of a Scout: The 10 Virtues that Make a Scout, which I introduced: here. Previously in this series, I talked about Endurance, Self-Discipline, Exploration, Observation, and Deduction. Each of these are traits or virtues that I have shown to have been with Scouting from the beginning, and each of these traits are necessary for a Scout to do what he should do and to carry out his Oath that he swore as a Scout. Today, I’m going to talk about what is perhaps one of the most important of these traits: Initiative.
What is Initiative?
I think the best answer I can give to define ‘initiative’, is to quote from the 9th edition of the Boy Scout Handbook, written by William Hillcourt:
Thinking is good, knowledge is good. But no one will get very far with either unless he also has initiative. Initiative is the ability to act without being told what to do. The boy with initiative often advances more rapidly than a more brilliant boy who doesn’t have it. The boy who sits around and waits for somebody to give him directions, who does only what he is told and nothing more, is not going to advance very rapidly or very far. Begin to exercise initiative right now in your own home. Do things around the house that need to be done, even though no one has told you to do them. In your schoolwork, don’t confine yourself merely to what the teacher tells you to study. Try to learn more about the subject than you find in the textbook. Show initiative in your patrol and troop by bringing in suggestions for activities and things to display in your meeting room. Accept responsibility by offering to help a Cub Scout den, to get the troop’s camp equipment in shape, to investigate new campsites, to run games and contests, to line up new activities. The boy who shows initiative is usually the one who is chosen to be a leader by his fellow Scouts. The world will not advance without initiative. Someone has to show it. It might as well be you! You may make mistakes at first. Don’t let that worry you – everyone does. Learn from your mistakes so that you don’t make the same mistake twice. Be sure in your mind that you are right – then go ahead!
Though these words were written over thirty years ago, they still ring forth just as powerfully today. Initiative is such an important virtue for Scouts to possess because it strikes at the very core of what a Scout is. By definition, a Scout is someone who goes out and explores the unexplored. A Scout is one who leaves the comforts of established civilization in order to explore the unknown and uncharted wilderness.
It is only through Scouts that the world advances. Scouts who explored new lands, Scouts who explored new technology; advances in these areas were only made because these men had initiative and were brave enough to go where no man had gone before. William Hillcourt emphasizes the immediate, practical influences of Initiative in one’s life, but there is a very broad application of this virtue as a life philosophy. As William Hillcourt said: “The world will not advance without initiative. Someone has to show it. It might as well be you!” This is the job of the Scout, and this is why Initiative is one of the Scout Keystones.
How Initiative is Built
I thought about naming this section: “How to get Initiative”. However, I decided to change it for a very specific reason. Initiative isn’t simply “got”. It is built; it is earned over time. Excitement is important, but having excitement for Scouting, exploring, and serving isn’t what will make you successful.
As time goes on, there will be times where you are meeting so many difficulties that your excitement is all gone. You will just want to throw up your hands and say, “That’s it! I’ve had it.” Initiative must be built upon perseverance and Endurance. True initiative isn’t something that happens once and then goes away. Having initiative is a constant process.
When you start out, you will have dreams. When you’re new to something, whether it is something like Scouting, or just life itself, you will naturally be excited. You might have a lot of idealistic pictures in your head of how it will be. Then comes real life. Things get tough; things don’t work out right. It doesn’t seem like you pictured it at all.
It is at this point where you must make a crucial decision. It is at this point that initiative is either born or dies before it can see the light of day. You can either accept reality as it is and adjust; dropping your dreams and learning to be content with getting by, or you can accept reality while not letting go of your dreams. It is at this vital point of decision that the spark of true Initiative can be lit.
Your dream isn’t practical, and you realize that. Going to the moon wasn’t ‘practical’; discovering America wasn’t ‘practical’. But these things happened because there were men who had the initiative to turn an impractical situation into a reality! So, to start out, you’ve got to make the same decision; everyone does. Everyone has their dreams, but only some people had the initiative to work to change the status quo. This is what Scouts should have. This is Scouting.
Start on the little things. Never neglect the little things, no matter how insignificant or annoying they seem. Big things are made of a lot of ‘littles’. Big dreams are accomplished by little steps. As time goes on, you will have your successes and disappointments, but you will see that your hard work is slowly paying off, sometimes in ways that you didn’t even imagine!
So, in summary, “Initiative is the ability to act without being told what to do.” It is the inner grit needed to work to make your dreams a reality without ignoring the difficulties. It doesn’t come in a ‘flash of inspiration’. It is earned; it is built. When you find yourself ‘disillusioned’ with the real world; when you discover that the dreams you had are not reality, then you have a decision to make. You can either accept it as the status quo, or you can accept the difficulties only as challenges to be overcome. When you decide to exercise Initiative, start right away by working on the small things. Above all, don’t get discouraged!
Thanks for reading this post! Do you have any comments, thoughts, or questions? I’d love to hear them! What are your dreams?
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Thanks again! Scout on, my friends!