This is a guest post from one of my dear friends who I got to know when we were both scouts.
I’ve been involved in Scouting for half my life – little 11 year old me went to her first Scout meeting a bundle of nervous excitement and never stopped going back. It may sound cheesy but Scouts became like family to me. I’ve met some of the most inspiring leaders, made friends for life and grown as a person – both emotionally and physically (thankfully I no longer look like an 11 year old!). So what is it that makes Scouts so special and keeps me coming back for more?
Not long ago I ran an evening for the local Cub troop I support as an Assistant Leader, to teach them about the 5 Scouting values. I asked them to reflect on what each one meant to them and how they could be applied to their behaviour and daily life. The evening was a success and everyone seemed to enjoy the activities but it got me thinking, how have the values affected me over the years? To me, these values lie at the heart of what makes Scouts so special and are fundamental to the movement but they are so easily taken for granted (and sometimes forgotten).
- Integrity – ‘We act with integrity; we are honest, trustworthy and loyal.’
When I was 17 I met a boy through Explorer Scouts who changed my life. He was my first boyfriend and we fell for one another hard. I loved him with my whole heart which meant that when we split a couple of years later it broke me. The healing process was slow and painful but I wouldn’t have made it through without the support and honesty of a certain Scout leader.
One weekend camp this Scout leader found me sat alone, crying my eyes out, at 3 in the morning. I was exhausted from the day’s activities and had found myself thinking about my ex. This leader sat down with me, in the freezing cold, and listened. I knew I could trust him and shared my story – it was his honesty about a past relationship he had been through that resonated with me. His openness and compassion was admirable because it’s not easy to talk about something so personal. The advice he gave me that night has never been forgotten and I’ve since found that if you can be honest about your emotions, with both yourself and others, it’s invaluable.
- Respect – ‘We have self-respect and respect for others.’
Scouts are one of the most accepting groups of people I’ve ever been a part of. I’ve tried many different clubs and societies at college and uni but none of them have matched how welcoming the Scout association is. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’ve come from, people want to get to know you, are genuinely interested in you and help you get stuck in. People respect one another and this was made clear to me when I took part in a Scout leaders training session.
Being an Assistant Cub Scout Leader at 21 meant I was the youngest person to attend the class (by far) and I was acutely aware of this. I thought I wouldn’t be taken seriously and people would question why I was there – I should have known better. Of course I was treated as an equal, nobody was ever patronising or condescending, and instead everyone seemed genuinely interested in my opinion and ideas. That morning gave me great confidence to fulfil my role as a leader.
In a similar vein, considering that we live in a world where ‘feminism’ seems to be a critical buzz word I feel that my gender has never been an issue within the Scout association. A fellow Network Scout, a friend of mine, said to me the other day that he’s never viewed Scouts as ‘male and female’ and I thought, good. It’s great that we all mix in together but of course, being a female, I am aware that I am a minority within Scouts. Yet this has never stopped me and I’ve always been of the opinion that I can do anything the boys can.
I remember that when I was 13 I was made a Patrol Leader at Scouts which meant I was in charge of a group of 5 younger boys who were to follow my lead and my instruction. It was a great responsibility (for that age) and I felt truly respected by my group. What I realise now is that those young guys will always have that experience and consequently, if in later life a female manager is ever in charge of them, I’d hope they would treat her in the same way they treated me.
- Care – ‘We support others and take care of the world in which we live.’
Scout groups are a great part of any local community as not only do they teach young people skills they can’t learn in school but they also give back in many other ways. I don’t think there has been a single year that’s gone by where I haven’t been involved in some sort of community project, such as volunteering at a local event or helping with the conservation of a reserve, because of Scouts.
What’s more, I’ve always been impressed by our dedication to clean up after ourselves, like the ritual litter pick that follows the end of any camp. We want others to be able to enjoy the campsite, as we did. This litter pick has certainly become a subconscious habit for me as I never leave any rubbish behind and have even found myself scolding my friends if they do.
Although, this may seem like a small thing, if everyone contributes just a little, it will add up to make a big difference. I think this sense of care and putting back carries across the association and leads to people supporting one another.
- Belief – ‘We explore our faiths, beliefs and attitudes.’
Scouts was originally Christian but the movement has worked hard to become open and inclusive of all religions and beliefs. This is, without a doubt, a work in progress but a clear example of this change has been the creation of alternative promises. However, what I’ve always respected about Scouts is their encouragement in exploring your own faith.
When asked what my belief is I will often reply that I’m an atheist but this isn’t strictly the case. As I’ve got older I’ve realised I’m a spiritual person and believe in a balance in the universe which may (or may not) be influenced by a higher being. Nobody in Scouts has ever criticised or judged me for this, which has given me the space to explore my beliefs and come to my own decisions around them. Even if you don’t follow any faith or have any religious views, in my experience, it’s never been a problem.
This open space to discuss, potentially controversial topics, is something I’ve come to appreciate about Scouts as I’ve got older. I’ve had some very interesting discussions with my Network group (aged 18-25) around a campfire late at night. People may have different opinions but these are debated fairly and everyone tries to understand the reasons for them. It’s been invaluable to talk about topics (like the UK leaving the EU) with a group of non-judgmental and varied people who I’ve learnt a lot from and considered things I’d not thought about before. I believe these debates allow me to develop a more informed and well-rounded opinion on some tricky topics which I often end up researching further.
- Cooperation – ‘We make a positive difference; we cooperate with others and make friends.’
To me, this value is visible at every Scout meeting and has been evidently present at every camp I’ve ever been on. Working together is fundamental to any camp’s success because, as they say, ‘many hands make light work’. There are so many jobs to get through, like cooking, chopping wood, washing up (the list goes on) but if everyone pulls their weight it’s easy to get through.
I’ve got some unforgettable memories from all the different camps I’ve been lucky enough to go on but my favourites have always come from summer camps. Perhaps because, after spending a week together, it’s impossible not to form closer friendships or make new friends.
This summer my Network Scouts went to Sweden for a week and it was an amazing experience. Not only did we do all the usual, adventurous activities, but we also hung out with a group of Swedish Scouts. I love how Scouting brings people together and, as a member, you become part of a global community that looks out for one another. It’s the necker we wear that’s instantly recognisable and always seems to spark conversation, wherever we go.
If you believe in having a good impact on the world we live in then I think everyone can agree that being honest, respectful, caring, open to new ideas and working together is important. Yet, you don’t have to be a Scout to apply these values to your everyday life.
When I ran the session with the Cub group, I challenged them to list some ways they live by the values. For example, owning up to a mistake and working to correct it (integrity) and offering to help their parents with dinner (respect and cooperation). How about trying to do this task yourself? It’s trickier than you think and there’s always room to improve. If you’re interested, and to give you some ideas, here are mine:
- Integrity – I suppose I have a bit of a reputation for being too honest but I’m a firm believer in saying how you feel because then people know where you stand. The one caveat I have to this is that I don’t want to ever intentionally upset or hurt someone, so if it’s a sensitive issue then I will be careful with the way I go about expressing my opinion. I’ve always prided myself in being there for my friends and if they were to need me, for whatever reason, I would drop everything to be by their side, in person or at the end the phone.
- Respect – As the Scout promise says ‘I will do my best’ and always try my hardest at whatever I do. I also believe in everyone being equal and try to take someone as they are rather than with preconcieved ideas or judgements based on race, sexuality or gender.
- Care – I love to volunteer and always try to do something each year. I’ve helped at an old peoples’ home and volunteered through Scouts as a leader. Yet my greatest adventure was going to Zimbabwe last year to help with the conservation of Black Rhinoes. If you like traveling, then volunteering is definitely the best way to do it – I met the most amazing, caring people and had the time of my life.
- Belief – I try not to take things for granted but to question my own views and understand why I have them. Just because your parents believe something, or your friends do, doesn’t mean it’s right. So I think it’s important to compare ideas so you can form your own opinion and argue it through coherently. Although I will admit that staying open minded isn’t always easy.
- Cooperation – At the office I’m a team player, as best as I can be. So if someone is struggling due to workload or is stuck on a particular problem I offer to help, if there’s anything I can do. It’s likely that at some point I’d be very grateful for someone that offered me the same.
So give it a go and think about how these values are a part of your life. If they’re not, are there ways you could incorporate them? It’s clear that they’ve affected my life far more than I realized and in a very positive way.