Thursday, June 28, 2012

To be, or not to be

Some years ago, I heard a little ditty on the Dr. Demento Show called “Be Prepared” by mathematician and satirist Tom Lehrer. His description of Scouting in that little tune was less than complimentary, to put it mildly (but probably more realistic than we’d like to admit), and it’s definitely not a song you’d have your boys sing around the campfire.

What does it mean to Be Prepared, anyway? Sir Robert Baden-Powell said to be prepared “for any old thing.” I’d like to emphasize the word “be.” Webster’s defines it, in part, as:

  • 1d – to have a specified qualification or characterization [the leaves are green]; and
  • 2a – to have an objective existence : have reality or actuality [I think, therefore I am].

To Be is often called a “helping verb” in English. It conjugates as, “I am,” “you are,” “she is,” “we are.” The Spanish equivalent, ser is defined as, “to have an intrinsic or natural quality, or to have it permanently.” (In Spanish, it’s also a verb in its own right, and doesn’t “help” anything.)

So, to be prepared is to possess those qualities and skills that enable one to accomplish whatever may come, do it well and with a positive attitude. A Scout “is” also several qualities as embodied in the Scout Oath and Law. By virtue of joining, one agrees that he will cultivate those qualities, that they will be part of him.

What does it mean then, when two older Young Men (registered Varsity Scouts, as per Church policy/tradition) pass the football around the gym, while the “real Scouts” and the only adult male in the room put away all the tables and chairs at the end of “Myuchal Night”?

To me, it's symptomatic of a larger problem:  it means they are not (negative past tense of to be) Scouts; they don’t think of themselves as being Scouts; they had a 14th birthday, and they “don’t do that” anymore.  They may have gone camping, they may have gone through the motions of earning some ranks, maybe even Eagle, and they may have had fun doing it, but it would appear (I say appear, because I'm not around them all the time) that they did not internalize the ideals that make one a Scout, uniformed or not.

It would appear that their program did not grow with them:  boxes checked, badges received, done with Scouts; it's the form without the substance.  (In large part, parents and leaders will determine how true this is, but that's for another essay.)

A Scout is Trustworthy; a Scout is Helpful; a Scout is Friendly; a Scout is Reverent; a Scout is prepared… Those qualities, not a badge, make him a Scout. Those qualities will also make him a worthwhile adult, not showing up at the church for an hour on a weeknight and playing catch. (Maybe I have it all wrong, and they're just not paying attention; after all, they're boys in the throes of testosterone poisoning, and even today I have trouble recognizing all the moments when I should step up and help out. That just means we need to double down in the teaching of correct principles.)

This is their time of preparation, and you can’t be prepared if you don’t consistently practice and internalize the qualities and skills inherent to that preparedness. Be prepared to be an upright, helpful citizen. Be prepared to step up to the plate. Be prepared to work. Be prepared to speak up for truth and righteousness. Be prepared, and be aware. Scouting and Duty to God are processes of becoming, not of getting. Don’t short-change your boys’ development by giving up on Scouting and allowing them to stop being Scouts just because they turned 14.

Prove Mr. Lehrer wrong.

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