A Scout’s parents have written me about a Scoutmaster who is making an Eagle Scout Candidate’s life miserable for no good reason..
I’m not going to go into all the particulars here. It’s really all too familiar. A Scoutmaster with a diseased ego browbeating a Scout. The district advancement chairman won’t stand up to the bully. The Scout and his parents have decided to move ahead and appease the Scoutmaster. The real problem is that the Scoutmaster has said some pretty mean things and the Scout is agonizing over them.
Your mom and dad and I have been exchanging emails over this whole Eagle Scout thing. Here are some thoughts that I hope will help you make sense of the situation.
First let me tell you that I have been a Scoutmaster for the past 25 years and have worked with something like 50 Scouts who earned their Eagle. I was fortunate enough to direct our summer camp for a couple of seasons and as a camp director I observed thousands of Scouts and Scout leaders and hundreds of Scout troops. I have trained many Scout leaders and been involved in district and council level operations for many years. To put it briefly I know what I am talking about.
The vast majority of adults who become Scout leaders do so because they want to help their Scouts, they want to support them and participate in all of the excitement and fun. We take our work seriously and put a lot of effort in it. Some of us, though, get misdirected and end up doing more harm than good. It is really pretty sad that such good intentions cause so much difficulty.
What I have learned about what you are going through right now with your Scoutmaster is distressingly common and I want to tell you that your Scoutmaster is simply wrong. You know it, I know it, your parents know it and your fellow Scouts know it. This achievement is about your competence and ability to complete the requirements written in the Scout handbook. It has nothing to do with the imaginary requirements your Scoutmaster creates.
I know that you have been taught to respect your parents, teachers, coaches and Scout leaders and to trust their judgment. I also know that you have matured to the point where you have discovered that some adults in some situations fail to rise to your expectations. I remember discovering this when I was your age and it was a real disappointment. But life goes on.
Some Scoutmasters get the idea that instead of simply being coaches and observers they need to become judges and referees. Instead of working with their Scouts they want their Scouts to prove something to them. Instead of following the rules they want to invent their own rules and inflate their role as Scoutmaster into some holy mission. Instead of using their position of authority and leadership to help they wield it like a club. Any Scout who, in their inflated opinion, fails to rise to their standard gets beat down. When full grown men start doing this sort of thing to young people it is a sign of their own weakness and uncertainty. They are bullying their Scouts using more subtle means than the classic schoolyard bully. Instead of stealing your lunch money they will threaten to withhold your advancements. They don’t give you a black eye but they use words like a well-aimed punch.
Eagle Scout requirements are written very clearly and simply. You already know you have satisfied them. For whatever reason you have done something to anger the bully. Maybe you did something really wrong, maybe you were just kind of aggravating, maybe you are totally innocent but the bully is mad.
As much as I enjoy the company of my Scouts they sometimes really aggravate me. They make mistakes, forget responsibilities and sometimes do the most incredibly stupid things. When this happens I have to remind myself that this is what they are supposed to be doing because they are trying to learn what the world is all about. My most important job as a Scoutmaster is working through these things with my Scouts, not judging and punishing them.
You probably feel terrible about all this because you are faced with the disappointment that men you once respected have let you down. The very people you trusted to play by the rules made up a few more rules because you made them angry. What is truly important is that you realize that you are not at fault, you have just run crosswise to a bully. This won’t be the last time someone tries to intimidate you or makes you feel inadequate for no good reason. It’s not an every-day thing as an adult but it happens from time to time. What a bully does and says is always more revealing about their own inadequacies and disappointments than the person they are trying to intimidate. They don’t inspire fear so much as pity.
I want to encourage you to stop feeling bad about the situation. Even if you think you may be partially responsible the actions and words of your Scoutmasters have blown all this out of proportion. They have landed a few punches and hurt you. I’d just forgive them and move on.
Keep all this in mind when your Eagle Court of Honor comes around. Your Scoutmaster did not stay up all night hand embroidering the badge you will receive or forging the medal he will present to you. It isn’t his award – frankly he’s a pretty insignificant player in the grand scheme of things. He’s said some unfavorable things about you but in the light of all that’s happened do you truly value his judgment? Remember that Scouting is not so much about Scouts earning the trust of their Scout leaders as it is the leaders earning the trust of their Scouts.
Congratulations on your achievement, you know you earned it. That is all that ultimately matters.