When you’ve been in Scouting for a while, it’s easy to recite the Scout Law and not think twice about the way it is worded. When you examine it closer, you see that when Baden-Powell first drafted the Scout Laws he made them quite different from what most people commonly think of as ‘laws’. This was intentional!
Read what early British Scouter Roland Philipps says about it his book “The Patrol System”. This was published in 1917, a year after Captain Philipps died in action:
A law is usually put in the form of a command, and instead of “A Scout’s Honor is to be Trusted” and “A Scout is Loyal to the King,” one might expect to find “A Scout must always speak the Truth” and “A Scout must be Loyal to the King.”
The difference between Scout Laws and ordinary laws is this: A Briton will still remain a Briton even if he is continually breaking the laws of his country; but a Scout who continually breaks his Laws will not remain a Scout. This is a very important point to remember.
When the Chief says, “A Scout’s Honor is to be Trusted,” he means that, unless a boy’s honor is to be trusted, the fact of his wearing Scout uniform and of carrying out Scout practices will not in itself make him into a Scout. The ten Laws are worded as facts.
The Chief tells you what a Scout is. A Scout is a boy who is honorable, loyal, useful, a friend both to human beings and to dumb animals, courteous, obedient, cheery, thrifty, and clean.
A boy who is not trying to be these things is not a Scout, however many badges he may wear on his arm. This should be made clear to every boy in the Movement, and I know that you can be trusted to make it clear to your patrol. – “The Patrol System and Letters to a Patrol Leader” by Capt. Roland Philipps (1917)
This seems like a very idealistic principle. Does it matter in day-to-day Scouting? What are the implications?
I think it’s got huge implications for Scouting right now! It puts the focus of what it means to be a Scout directly on a boy’s decision to follow the Scout Law. It’s not about badges, a uniform, or going camping. These are all a big part of Scouting, but they don’t define what it means to be a Scout.
I think it’s easy to view Scouting only on its surface level: putting on a uniform, going camping, etc. These are fun parts of Scouting, but they aren’t life-changing in and of themselves. It’s how they tie into building personal character that makes them more than just a bunch of extra-curricular fun stuff.
Scouting, at it’s heart, isn’t a series of activities that we do. Being a Scout should be an identity we take on. When a Scout is in the classroom, he is still a Scout. When at Scout is chatting with friends over lunch break, he is still a Scout.
It’s not the average boy who will resist peer pressure and choose not to share in exchanging dirty jokes with his friends simply because it is the right thing to do. It’s not the norm for a young man to have the guts to put himself at risk and intervene in a situation to defend someone who is being mistreated. It’s not the habit of most people to always look around them for ways to help others.
But Scouts are in Scouting because they want to be more and do more than the ‘average’. Why don’t we focus on that? When we have Scoutmaster minutes or PLCs, why don’t we point to the Scout Law and say, “Let’s be that! Let’s do that!”
Simply going on a camping doesn’t have to improve character. Just being a Patrol Leader doesn’t have to make any kind of difference in a life. Only when all of Scouting is practiced with a focus on what it means to be a Scout, that’s when you get true Scout Spirit.
Thank you for reading this article! If you’re passionate about Scouting and think we should keep Scouting focused on what it means to be a Scout, please spread this message with Scouts and Scouters you know. You can make this idea the subject of Scoutmaster minutes, you can intentionally bring this up in conversations, Boards of Review, Scoutmaster Conferences, etc. And, if you wish, you can share this article via email, social media, etc using the links below.
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