The Influence of Heroes
One of my first childhood heroes was a man named George Washington Carver. He was born into slavery in 1864. Despite having to grow up during the tremendously difficult reconstruction era, he became one of the leading botanists and educators of the South. He had a genius for science and a passion for helping Southern farmers succeed during some of the roughest times America went through. It was reading about him that did much to spark my early interest in science.
As I began to read about the history of Scouting, I learned that it’s immediate success was largely due to the ‘hero’ status of it’s founder: Robert Baden-Powell. He was a war hero; his exploits during the Siege of Mafeking during the Second Boer War captivated the attention of the British public. The popularity was well-earned: much of the credit for the British success goes to Baden-Powell’s strategic military genius.
When he arrived back home, he found that he had become quite the celebrity! He had a household name and was the hero of an entire generation of boys. When he introduced Scouting to the nation, it was the perfect idea, at the right time, and coming from the ideal person.
When Baden-Powell wrote ‘Scouting for Boys’, he wove the thread of heroism throughout the entire book. He talked about frontiersmen, pioneers, trappers, knights, and military scouts. He described the heroic actions of the boys who helped with the war in Mafeking and many others who served their nation and community.
Continually throughout the book, he holds up the particular virtues of these men, young and old, as examples to be followed. Reading about these extraordinary people inspired generations of Scouts in the past. It also inspired me, reading about them over 100 years later.
The original BSA handbook, too, is full of such heroes. Knights, frontiersmen, Native Americans, and pioneers are all praised for their skill, courage, and virtue. The history of the USA. is also given in detail with many names and biographies of some the notable men who’s sacrifice and dedication made the nation succeed.
Thinking about these heroes made me curious about how many are held up in Scouting today. I didn’t remember any particular figure sticking out in my mind who I’ve read about in contemporary Scouting books. So, in preparing this article, I thoroughly scanned the 12th edition of the Boy Scout Handbook looking for heroes.
I didn’t find any.
Very few people, past or present, are mentioned by name. The founders of Scouting only have a short sentence or two as a bio. The founding fathers of America are mentioned briefly in passing.
This distancing from heroes isn’t just a Scouting thing. There are tons of books and articles out there right now ‘exposing’ many past heroes for their mistakes and shortcomings.
One example that comes to mind is an article that has had huge circulation in various forums over the internet in the past couple of years. It compares Thomas Edison to Nikola Tesla, with Edison being painted in an extremely unfavorable light. Edison, who used to be considered a hero of American invention, is now widely viewed as a industrial leech who exploited others for his own advancement.
Over and over, we’ve seen heroes of the past crumble as their flaws are paraded for the world’s entertainment. However, many don’t realize that as these prominent figures’ skeletons are exhumed and burned, so is the memory of the good things they’ve done, their strengths, and their virtues.
What does the culture give to replace these heroes? Sometimes it’s actors; sometimes it’s musicians; sometimes it’s politicians… most of the time it’s nothing.
Do Heroes Still Have a Place in Scouting?
Where does that leave Scouting? You can’t tell me boys don’t appreciate heroes anymore. Most of the Scouts I’ve talked to (including myself), like the short ‘Scouts in Action’ section best out of the whole Boys’ Life Magazine. It’s inspiring to read about other Scouts doing heroic things. I just wish that section was much longer.
I want to end this article by leaving with a question: Can we rediscover heroes? If so, how?
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