After it’s founding Scouting quickly and spontaneously spread around the world. Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of this burgeoning worldwide movement, would look back at those years and recall*:
Scouting was not a year old before other countries had formed their branches. In twenty-one short years the Scout and Guide training has spread to forty-two different countries about the world, and has proved its potentiality as a factor in world peace.
Not everyone thought this was a good thing. At the time some urged Baden-Powell to check this spontaneous growth by patenting his idea. They feared that their patriotic, exclusively British, movement would become diluted and diminished when people in other countries adopted Scouting. They may not get it right, it was too unstable, too uncertain.
I think Baden-Powell not only sensed this spontaneous growth was not dangerous or diluting, I think he realized there was little he could do to stop it had he wanted to.
This spontaneity and diversity would, in fact, become the greatest and strongest things about Scouting. I think that this changed his vision of Scouting from it’s militaristic, patriotic origins into a vehicle for world peace. He would learn that when Scouts gathered together seemingly irreconcilable differences of national origin, culture and religion yielded to a spirit of brotherhood.
Baden-Powell would call the first international Scout gathering in 1920 the ‘first great reunion of the world’s boyhood’ in the aftermath of WWI. After ten days of camping and working together in Olympia, London the Scouts of more than twenty nations met with their founder and asked him to make this appeal:
“Brother Scouts, I ask you to make a solemn choice. Differences exist between people of the world in thought and temperament.
The Jamboree has taught us that with mutual give and take under a common ideal sympathy and harmony are established.
If it be your will, let us therefore endeavor to develop among our boys such comradeship through the world-wide Scout spirit of brotherhood that peace and goodwill may henceforth reign among men.
Are you willing to join in this high enterprise?”
The overwhelming response resulted in formation of an International Scout Bureau. The idea created the organization, not the other way round. In writing about this momentous occasion Baden-Powell quoted Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore :
“It is through brotherhood and not through organisation that the world should be ordered… we are all citizens in the Kingdom of Ideas… there will be men large enough to see the human race as a whole, who understand that the good of the community as a family exists…”
If we reflect that we members of the human family are only here on this earth together for a short span of life we realize that petty differences and fighting for little selfish ends are out of place in the Creator’s scheme.
Tragore’s thought describes the promise of Scouting; we can get along with each other if we try. Some Scouts in a patrol want one thing for dinner, some want another. They discuss and debate and arrive at a decision. This seemingly insignificant decision made by a bunch of boys echos throughout their lives and so throughout the world; “we can get along with each other if we try.”
Scouting spread spontaneously and only then was it contained and clothed by organizations in a garments of tradition, policy, rules and regulations. If organizations grow too inflexible and arthritic to suit the ideas they contain they must either renew themselves through innovation and change or lose the vital idea that created them.
In the Gospel of Luke Jesus shared a parable about this sort of thing:
“No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’ “
Of course not everyone is invigorated and energized by change. Why have any new wine, the old wine was just fine wasn’t it? What of our traditions? Haven’t we always looked at the world this way? Why would we change now? Aren’t we abandoning old ideas and principles?
When things change we aren’t abandoning the ideas and principles at the core of Scouting, we are learning more about what they mean. Baden-Powell wrote the Scout oath and law over a century ago and we have discovered, in the intervening years, it embodies racial equality, gender equality and religious pluralism that Baden-Powell himself would likely not have embraced at the time.
Is there a church, denomination or religious movement that is doing and saying exactly the same things they did and said a century ago? They may hold the same core beliefs but they have changed the way they interpret and apply them.
There are those in every successive generation that, on reaching a certain age, think the world is somehow worse than it used to be. I think our best days are ahead; the inevitable result of progress and learning is change. I wouldn’t exchange our era (with all its problems and difficulties) for any era in the past because there’s no perfect past to return to and no ideal future ahead, there’s only now.
In these past few months many of us have been working to define the future of the BSA. We’ve argued, debated, listened, and talked and now a decision will be made, some of us will disagree, and some of us may leave.
Change and innovation are uncertain, dynamic and unpredictable elements; they challenge us, they upset us. Still, though, we ought to welcome the idea of change, we ought to work hard to see what’s next, how the Scouting idea will continue on to change the world.
Baden-Powell’s appeal to the us is just as alive today as it was nearly a century ago;
“… let us therefore endeavor to develop among our boys such comradeship through the world-wide Scout spirit of brotherhood that peace and goodwill may henceforth reign among men. Are you willing to join in this high enterprise?”
* Quotes from SCOUTING AND YOUTH MOVEMENTS Chapter 8