Recently I have come across a couple of instances of rule making that have rubbed me the wrong way. You know what I am talking about – long lists of dos and don’t s with associated penalties and even a place for a signature. Basically a behavior contract.
Rules and contracts can stifle the spirit of Scouting. As soon as a contract is drawn or a rule is established a compelling reason will arise to make an exception because Scouts are individuals and have individual needs. We are not in the business of soldiering, Scouts are not our employees, we are all playing a game. Rules and regulations require a referee or an enforcer of some kind – not something that we want our Scoutmasters doing. What we have instead are brief, easy to understand concepts that are all “dos” and no “don’t s”: the Scout Oath and Law.
The job of a Scoutmaster is to develop and nurture a common understanding of these simple concepts. She or he will also want to emphasize the Patrol System, real responsibility and autonomy for youth leadership and a safe environment. Look at most rules and you will see that most of them are only expressions of some part of the Scout Oath or Law.
Should there be rules and policies and procedures? Yes, but the fewest and simplest to maintain safety and propriety. When we are tempted to add rules to the game it is usually because we have been disappointed by someone’s performance or behavior. Failures are not unusual or unexpected – in fact we expect them, we almost welcome them – because recovering and learning from them is at the heart of Scouting. Behaviors themselves are not our target; our target is developing a sense of responsibility, self esteem and esprit de corps that negates bad behavior.
We can shape good behavior by instilling the Scout Oath and Law in our Scouts and addressing their actions within that context. We will not eradicate bad behavior by writing rules or contracts.