Boy Scouts offer valuable lessons for all young menPublished 11:40am Friday, February 1, 2013
For years — for decades, actually — I carried in my wallet a tattered card that attested to the fact that I am an Eagle Scout. When I first started looking for a job in the newspaper industry 30-some years ago, I put the card in my wallet to back up my resume, on which I listed the Eagle Scout achievement.entries
A few years ago I removed the card during a wallet-slimming project. Like a lot of other stuff I carried — Social Security card, pilot’s certificate — no one had ever actually asked to see my Eagle Scout card. Now it’s in a drawer somewhere.
I had not thought about that card since the day it got filed in my desk. This week, however, as the Boy Scouts of America once again wrestled with the question of whether to change its policy banning gays, I spent some time thinking about my days as a Boy Scout and whether I have an opinion on gays and Scouting. Probably a lot of other former Scouts are doing the same this week.
The Boy Scouts has long had a policy of excluding gays. Earlier this week, the organization announced it would consider making it a local-choice issue, allowing troops to set their own policies.
This question of gay membership has deviled Scouting for decades, occasionally flaring up and then dying down again. Like a lot of others, I’ve been vaguely aware it is an issue, but have not followed it closely.
For the most part, when my thoughts turn to the Boy Scouts they have nothing to do with who is or is not a member. Rather, I remember the lessons I learned during my years with Troop 628 in Madison, Wis.
Many of those lessons were small and specific — how to tie a timber hitch, how to change windshield wiper blades, how to use direct pressure to stop bleeding. Others were more involved: What does it take to prepare oneself for a weekend camping trip or for three weeks of backpacking?
The most valuable lessons were much bigger and they’ve served me ever since: How to organize a whole group for a trip, how to apply the principle “be prepared” in almost any situation, how to lead and how to manage. Most importantly, I learned how to take responsibility for the consequences of bad decisions (and for the benefits of good ones).
While I — and thousands of other former Scouts — have built on those lessons in the decades since I left the organization, they remain the foundation for skills that I use every day at work and at home.
In short, Boy Scouts was a very good thing for me. As it was, I believe, for almost everybody who was or is involved.
What I realized this week is that I can’t imagine any reason, not the slightest, for denying someone that experience. None of the lessons I learned are exclusive to being straight. Nor can I imagine that the fun we had as Scouts would have been diminished — or, indeed, affected in any way at all — if some members of the troop had been gay.
In fact, the odds are very high that at least a few of the boys with whom I camped, hiked, planned, played and learned for years are gay. I expect they are benefitting today from their Scouting experience just as I am. For all I know, one or more of our various leaders over the years was gay. If so, I can’t see where it made any difference to me.
Nor would I have any qualms about my step-sons joining Scouts, if they want to do so when they’re old enough, regardless of the organization’s policy on gay members.
The reality is we are all surrounded, every day, by people of many races, people of both genders, people with various sexual identities. Why should Scouts be any different?
Although an official decision on national policy hasn’t yet been made, my guess is the Scouts will choose to become more inclusive. I also guess it’s a decision people will someday look back on and wonder why it was so difficult.
It would be a better world if every boy, regardless of whether he’s gay or straight, could absorb the lessons Scouting offers.