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Nostalgia, Tradition, and the Relevance of Scouting

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relevance of scoutingWhenever two or three Scouters get together talk eventually turns to the relevance of Scouting in ‘modern society’.

Some think we’ve diminished the ideals of  ’manliness’ , traditional patriotism, bootstrap initiative, competitiveness and rigor in achievement  but have they really examined what those ideas actually mean? Scouting does not consider that these things are scarce, unobtainable qualities, but that each individual Scout has vast potential to develop them .

We wrangle and argue over measurements; what is ‘true’ manliness, patriotism, achievement? Instead of a system of measurement  Scouting sets a star to travel by: the full realization of each individual Scout’s potential. Our principal aim is that individual ideal; interdependent, useful human beings who become active citizens and make the world a better place.

Detractors invoke creeping ‘political correctness’ and suggest that we have watered down our decisiveness and morality. This old chestnut of an argument was used to condemn innovation and change since the dawn of civilization; “Romans are so trendy and effete – what ever happened to good old Etruscans?” In their opinion all we have to do is reprint the original edition of the Scout handbook and return to our imagined  ideal past that, of course, never existed. Nostalgia is pleasant, but it is not history. Our forebears had to muddle through the same sorts of flaws and pressures we encounter. They did there best and so can we.

Scouting has always been, and will always remain, something that principally happens when we are out-of-doors camping and trekking our way through the natural world. This is our tradition, but we don’t do follow tradition blindly.

We don’t go camping as a romantic, aesthetic, throwback to the good old days. We go camping because it is the most useful way to achieve the aims of Scouting. We use patrols and engage youth in leadership not because it’s a quaint, anachronistic, tradition but because that’s how we achieve the aims of Scouting.

Most importantly we do these things because that is what our Scouts want to do! Despite a century of societal and cultural changes there’s not much difference between present day Scouts and those few that camped out on Brownsea island at the dawn of the Scouting movement.

That’s our past, present and future all rolled into one.

Our Scouts neither need, nor do they particularly want, big flashy programs and entertainments. We aren’t trying to entertain, we want to engage our Scouts.

Scouting is relevant, and it will always be,  so long as we don’t make it into a historic re-enactment,  blindly follow tradition,  and resist the temptation to misdirect it’s simple intentions.

Scouting is not about recreating the past, we are looking toward the future.