These are divisive times. We are in the midst of a hotly contested presidential election and the Boy Scouts of America is working through major controversies over past practices in reporting child abuse and challenges to excluding gay leaders (and now apparently) Scouts.
These are touchy issues to write about here but I have been asked if I would offer my thoughts because the airways are full of stories and folks are feeling unsettled.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for me to come down on one side or the other. Let’s not pass judgement on or discuss the B.S.A.’s membership policies, people’s politics or their religious beliefs. Lets just lay all those things aside for a moment and think about Scouting beyond the context of organizations and personalities to see it as it’s founder did.
Our founder envisioned Scouting as a vehicle for bringing peace to the world.
Because of this vision over the last century Scouting has found a home in many places. Scouts reverence and respect different expressions of religion, politics, nationality and culture. Beyond simply tolerating these differences we accept those that hold them as fellow Scouts. We understand that a Scout may adhere to a different belief, practice, or custom without diminishing our own. We understand that there is strength in this diversity.
Last summer, high in the Bernese Alps I had the great pleasure sitting around a campfire with our fellow Scouts from Portugal, we shared our kitchen space with Scouts from Great Britain, and we spent time with Scouts from Switzerland, Brazil, Mauritius, Russia, Kenya, Greece, and many other places. We couldn’t all speak the same language, we did not all worship the same God, we did not share the same opinions. We came together having much in common for the simple fact that we were Scouts.
That’s the heart of the Scouting movement.
My Scouting movement, your scouting movement, our Scouting movement is bigger than political, religious or moral dogma. Scouting is a simple expression of values common to every enlightened society throughout human history. These values are nothing new. They are too broad to be owned by any one religious or political point of view, or any one organization. Each Scout judges their own heart. We look on our fellow Scouts as we hope they look on us: with understanding, acceptance and tolerance.
Scouts have always differed in matters of custom,politics and religion. The genius of our movement is that we look beyond those differences to the things we hold in common.
Division is easy, division is cheap, division is cowardly.
Unity takes a lot of work.
Unity requires us to accommodate charitably those with whom we disagree, it requires us to bravely share our world and ourselves with those who disagree with us. We have to look beyond the differences.
Organizations, religions, and political parties and are inflexible and slow to change. But they do. They are bound by rules and policies and traditions. They are inherently intolerant and insular, they are tribal.
Perhaps the next great leap of humanity will come when we finally do away with the pettiness and divisions of tribalism and embrace the common good in each other. Perhaps Scouting will have a part on this as Baden-Powell expressed in his last message to Scout leaders:
“Our aim is to produce healthy, happy, helpful citizens; to eradicate the prevailing narrow self-interest; personal, political, sectarian and national, and to substitute for it a broader spirit of self-sacrifice and service in the cause of humanity; and thus to develop mutual goodwill and coöperation not only within our own country but abroad, between all countries. Experience shows that this consummation is no idle or fantastic dream, but is a practical possibility – if we work for it… Therefore you are not only doing a great work for your neighbor’s children, but are also helping in practical fashion to bring to pass God’s Kingdom of peace and goodwill upon earth. So, from my heart, I wish you Godspeed in your effort”