During our camp retreat ceremony we fire a 12 gauge signal cannon as the colors are lowered. I asked why we did this (was it some tradition in American history, a military observance?) . I learned that we used to have a flag flying at the highest point of camp and the signal cannon let a group of Scouts stationed their to strike the colors while the rest of the camp saluted in a field far below. Over the decades the forest had grown to the point that we could no longer see the flag on the hill, so we moved the flag pole to the field where we hold the retreat ceremony. We still fire the cannon, it’s part of the camp history. After all who wouldn’t want to fire a cannon if they could!?!
Scouting Traditions are, for the most part, wonderful things, they connect us to the past and provide a bridge into the future. Scouting has many hallowed traditions that have only grown more meaningful with the patina of time. As laudable as they may be these traditions can drift from the core concepts that created them and even obscure the reasons they were perpetuated.
Sometimes, if we stop and ask ourselves why we are following a tradition we may find it’s based on habits that grew out of a particular set of conditions that are no longer valid reasons to keep the tradition alive.
It’s human nature to keep doing things as they were always done without asking why we are doing them in the first place. You may have heard the story of the cook who routinely cuts the end off of a roast before putting it in the oven because that’s what their mother did when they were growing up.
If you asked mother why she cut the roast she’d tell you this was the way her mother did things and, in fact, that’s even what her grandmother did. Ask grandmother why she cut the ends off the roast and you may find she started doing it because her oven was too small for a whole roast!
One year we looked at our traditional merit badge schedule and learned that we had simply perpetuated a habit of doing things from the years when 150 Scouts was the maximum number the camp could hold. Decades later we had 250 Scouts in camp and it was well past time to change the schedule!
We ought to test what we do, ask questions about why we do what we do. When we find traditions that don’t stand up to scrutiny we can change them. Either way, though, we’ll certainly understand more about them.