A Statement of Belief
If the popular acceptance of Scouting as a part of the national life of a country is at the same time a valuable tribute and a tremendous responsibility. It has been possible for Scouting to achieve results which otherwise could not have been accomplished. It has a danger, perhaps, in influencing an attitude of complacency which leaves those who are responsible for Scouting's welfare to imagine that the movement can progress without the need for any serious attention on their part. As is well known, difficulties invoke struggle, and struggle and opposition - as history shows are steps towards continuous success.
I believe that the next ten years are going to prove the most difficult ones for Scouting in every country where Scouting exists. We are coming to a crisis in the world's history, and we are coming to a crisis in the history of Scouting. The passage of well over a quarter of a century means that a new generation is coming into leadership in our movement. This new generation has not only to prove itself, but also to contend with difficulties non-existent in the pioneer days of Scouting; difficulties brought about by modem civilization and modem inventions; difficulties brought about in part by the success of Scouting itself, with the result that many of its methods and activities have been adopted and adapted by other organizations as well as by the whole process of education.
We have to face two very important questions: "Is it necessary to change Scouting, its activities and its methods, so as to bring it into line with modern developments and thought?" or, "Is it best to hold fast to the original conception of Scouting and its fundamental aims, purposes and methods?"
I personally believe that the greatest contribution Scouting can make to the world to-day is to hold firm to its original ideas, and, by so doing, to secure the continued development of boys through the exercise of their own powers and their own leadership - as exemplified by the Patrol System - and to enable them to grasp the value and happiness of participation in the simple pleasures of the Great Out-of-Doors. This is the one particular contribution that Scouting can continue to make for the welfare of mankind through its boyhood. It must never be forfeited under the false plea that Scouting must keep up with the times and changing conditions. Boys are fundamentally the same as they have always been.
I would, therefore, in all seriousness invite the attention and thought of those responsible for the leadership of our movement to the real and present necessity for a re-statement of the simple truths of Scouting, and to the continued necessity of keeping it as originally conceived: an Outdoor Game for Boys, led by Boys, and worked by Boys.
One of our immediate objectives must be to put more emphasis on the outdoor atmosphere of Scouting, so as to produce the self-reliance and resourcefulness which Scouting is out to produce.
The main purpose of Scouting is so to develop a boy's character and competence that he can stand alone and be truly independent. There is a danger, however, of Scouting coddling and restricting its members - Scouts and Scouters to such an extent that this main purpose cannot possibly be achieved. I am tempted to quote to quote from an article, "What Length Apron-Strings?" by Farnsworth Crowder that appeared in a shortened form in The Literary Digest, and I fall to that temptation.
"But what we take to be the amazing sophistication of Modern Seventeen is a deceptive mask. For Seventeen, until he has worked at a job in order to subsist, made money and spent it, lived alone or among strangers, built or fashioned something with his hands; until he has felt, directly or sympathetically, trouble, fear, grief and pain, and until he is able in some measure to comprehend that misery, uncertainty and irony are ingredients of human life - until then he is a simple and callous child.
"We glory in telling how a Lincolnian character is chiseled out of the rough by harsh circumstances. But the last thing in the world we want for our children is subjection to similar knocks. We are determined to make their environment painless and well-oiled. Is this a wise generosity, or is it a subtle way of deadening individual defiance and will?
"Who if not the parent is to take the responsibility of urging children into life? Parents may quake at the thought and ask, 'How are we to offer Johnnie more freedom and yet know he will not run into dangers and difficulties?'
"Does not such anxiety signify a guilty awareness that the child has not been prepared to meet life? Are we afraid he will drown because the water is deep or because we haven't taught him to swim? Will he fall sick because there are sicknesses to be had or because he hasn't learned the laws of health? Will hard corners bruise him because they are sharp or because he is tender or naive? One day, when we least expect it, he will discover he has been fooled and pampered and then it will be too late.
"Parents should exert themselves to bridge for their children the chasm that separates irresponsible youth from responsible adulthood. It is better, at 12, to know something about sex, work, money, poverty and evil than to be torn suddenly to pieces on encountering these things at 18 or 20. It is better to pay out the apron strings gradually than to have them slashed unexpectedly in a spirit of revolt.
"This is dangerous advice, but life is a dangerous and wonderful business. It is not at all a service to children to try, out of affection, fear, or inertia, to make them think otherwise."
These are hard words, but words which must make us pause and think Scouting has placed itself in loco parentis, and has even claimed that it can lead parents to come in touch with, and train, their own children. Scouting must beware that it does not lead both parents and children down a false trail.
Scouting must make every effort to train BOYS to become MEN.
My firm belief is that Scouting the world over needs to get back to the simple, original idea of Scouting as a Game that will help boys to develop themselves with the least possible amount of adult supervision. It is most difficult to turn back, and find out what the simple truths of any movement are, and to trim off all the additions that have been made. "Did the guy who suggested the Patrol System know anything about it?" is a very common question asked by most of us in varying forms, with the result that we so alter and prune the original tree of Scouting that its shape is lost and it becomes unrecognizable.
A very definite and simple re-statement of the original conception and practice of Scouting is required.
Scouting is a simple matter, but in many ways it has been made a complicated business. Simplification is possible - even in these modern complicated days -and the main contribution Scouting can make to-day is to prove the value of simple things.
The Boy himself is in essence a simple being, proud to show the results of his own actions, proud to try out his growing powers, ready to follow where he is led, anxious to please, and desirous to help. Those of us who have elected ourselves to the high office of becoming his leader must realize the responsibilities we have taken on ourselves, and not fail in our trust. We have elected to exercise our leadership through the Scout method and following the Scout principles and it is these that must guide us in our task, not any other weird and wonderful inventions of our own.
If we all set out in our daily lives and in all our Scout activities to remember the boy, we would do our work better and achieve better results.
Scouting has come of age; it has passed the quarter-century; it is approaching middle-age. This is not an achievement in itself, nor a reason for resting on our laurels. It entails all the responsibilities that come to one who attains adult age. It is not enough to convince people that Scouting is a wonderful thing; we must educate them to know why and how it becomes useful, and then it will become too vital for them to dismiss lightly.
We must turn to our ideals for future guidance. The Scout Promise and the Scout Law must become in reality the guiding principles of the lives of all Scouts and of all Scouters. They are subjects for practice rather than preachment, but that practice must be intensified so as to affect others outside our ranks as well. That is possible locally, as has already been illustrated in many parts of the world. The Good Turn and its universal practice are guarantees that Scouting is promoting a spirit of unselfish concern for the welfare and happiness of others.
Boy Scouts of America (1938)
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Last modified: August 20, 2012.