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Two Living Reasons Why Scouting Still Matters

Boy Scout Honor Medal with Crossed Palms

Boy Scout Honor Medal with Crossed Palms

Last night, my 16 year-old grandson was awarded the Boy Scout Honor Medal with Crossed Palms for saving his younger brother and himself from drowning in a sudden squall and rip current in the Pacific Ocean. The Boy Scouts of America gives this award only “in exceptional cases to a youth member or adult leader who has demonstrated unusual heroism and extraordinary skill or resourcefulness in saving or attempting to save life at extreme risk to self.”  Fewer than 300 of these medals have been awarded since the recognition was established in 1938.

My grandson has been a Boy Scout for 5 years, and has internalized Scouting’s “Be Prepared” motto. On that particular day in the Pacific, he understood the importance of remaining calm in an emergency. He knew how to approach and assist a drowning person. Most importantly, he lives the concept of service to others, a cornerstone of the Scout Oath,“…to help other people at all times.”

It could be argued that without his Boy Scout training my grandson may have displayed similar skill and courage in rescuing his brother. But Scouting’s positive influence cannot be denied in this near tragedy, or in the countless efforts of boys who strive to live up to the Scout Slogan, to “Do a Good Turn Daily.” Most of their acts of daily kindness, including some that may also be deserving of Scouting’s Honor Medal, go largely unrecognized.

Similar to other religious and civic organizations, the Boy Scouts of America has attracted depraved individuals who’ve preyed on their youth, and has been forced to wrestle with tough 21st Century social and moral issues, where public opinion is always divided and rancorous. Because Scouting’s local chartering organizations represent such a range of ethnic, political and religious diversity, finding acceptable solutions to those thorny issues is particularly challenging. And BSA’s responses to those obstacles, however well-intentioned, have often been ham-fisted or inconsistent.

Scouting’s visible and very real shortcomings, however, don’t justify the broad scale ridicule and disrespect the program has received over the past decade. The gradual demise of Scouting – validated by dramatic membership decline – is a loss for our nation, for our families and for our youth. There is no other institution serving American youth that for more than 100 years has combined training in practical skills, respect for the environment, teamwork, leadership and personal values. No sports team, marching band or school club even comes close.

Regardless of how far a boy progresses on the trail to Eagle Scout, he’s likely to benefit from Scouting in some lasting way.  Long after he’s forgotten how to tie a clove hitch or apply a tourniquet, a Boy Scout often retains something more meaningful, whether it’s self-confidence from serving as a patrol leader, or appreciation of central plumbing from roughing it on camping trips.  Forty-five years after I last wore a Boy Scout uniform, the 12 Points of the Scout Law continue to influence my life, in ways that are far more tangible than any lesson I took away from 16 years of Catholic school education or from decades of listening to sermons in church.

My grandson’s unvarnished account of his heroics gives me goose bumps. He wrote, “As the big waves kept coming, I was trying to stay near my brother. I then began to panic more than before, because I knew the situation was serious. Finally, I grabbed him and tried to swim toward the shore. I felt exhausted and worried. I knew how scared he was and I had to face the fact that we weren’t going to be able to get help, and that it was up to me to get us to safety.”

For me, my grandsons are two living reasons why Scouting still matters. Parents looking for an organization that’s prepared to help them to instill in their son strength of character and practical life skills would be well served to measure Scouting’s worth with a clear lens; without all the current noise regarding membership criteria, and ignoring the vitriol of critics who often know little about Scouting.

Those looking to use the messy politics of Scouting to keep their son from becoming a Boy Scout will always find ample raw material to justify that decision. But when your son or grandson is struggling in troubled waters 100 yards from shore, none of those moral objections are likely to seem very important.

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Augusta National Throws Women a Bone. Should Condi and Darla Return the Favor?

Darla and Condi Have No Reason to Celebrate

Augusta National Golf Club, long revered by the golfing world as the Sistine Chapel of their sport, announced with great pride (a “joyous occasion,” according to Augusta Chairman Billy Payne) that it had invited bureaucrat Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore to join the club as its first female members.

For decades, Augusta National has defiantly withstood public criticism and pressure to admit female members on the basis that as a private institution the club is under no obligation to accept anyone – regardless of sex, race, religion or sexual preference – who does not pass muster with the boys who hold the keys to the front door.

Ever since golfing legend and bona fide Southern gentleman Bobby Jones co-founded Augusta National some 80 years ago, the club has served as the stage for the Masters Tournament, considered by many as golf’s most important international competition, perhaps with exception of the Ryder Cup. And it’s Augusta National’s association with the history and tradition of the Masters that provides the club with a level of prestige (and arrogance) that exceeds St. Andrews and Pebble Beach combined.

During his days as Microsoft’s CEO, Bill Gates faced Augusta National’s arrogance first-hand when denied club membership for publicly stating that he wanted to be a member. As punishment, Augusta forced Gates to eat crow for several years before he was allowed to wear a member’s green jacket.

But Augusta National’s bullying isn’t limited to their admission process. A little known fact is that once admitted to the club, a member is not assured of continued membership and may be dropped at any time for any reason with no explanation. In fact, the only way Augusta National members know if they are still members is by the arrival of their annual dues invoice in Spring. No invoice means your invitation has been withdrawn.

Augusta National is not about golf; it’s about power. It features a golf course that’s closed for a good part of the year to protect the pristine fairways and sacred greens that its well-heeled members rarely play on.  Augusta National is not about golf; it’s about prestige. The club bestows membership to America’s corporate royalty the same way the Queen of England awards knighthoods and MBE titles…but with far less intelligence and transparency than the British monarchy.

The sad truth is that women have nothing to cheer over the “joyous occasion” at Augusta. This publicity stunt does not represent a meaningful change in the club’s policy of exclusion, and provides Augusta National with convenient and high profile validation that it will continue to exercise its right, as a private club, to do whatever it wants whenever it wants.

If Condi and Darla are serious about playing golf, there are scores of world-class private clubs that have been accepting women as members for many decades. And if Condi and Darla are serious about advancing the cause of women’s rights, they should decline Augusta National’s invitation. And they should make a lot of noise in the process.

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Boy Scouts of America and the Naked Rambler

Stephen Gough a/k/a the “Naked Rambler”

As reported today in The Scotsman, after spending six years behind bars for walking around Great Britain with no clothes on, 53 year-old Stephen Gough – known as the “Naked Rambler” – was released from prison in Perth, Scotland. Mr. Gough, who left the facility naked, vowed to continue his “vocation in life,” which involves not wearing clothing to demonstrate his non-conformity with social norms, and to prove that people are prejudice.  To make his point, Gough has spent most of the past decade in prison, and much of it in solitary confinement.

Yesterday, after a two-year evaluation of its current policy, the Boy Scouts of America reaffirmed its position to exclude openly gay individuals from membership; stating that “it remains in the best interest of Scouting.”

In truth, Scouting’s “extensive research and evaluations” that were used to support its position provide a convenient smokescreen for the real reasons why the Boy Scouts will continue to ban gays from the organization.

In his 2004 book, Scout’s Honor: A Father’s Unlikely Foray Into the Woods, New York Times reporter Peter Applebome explains that religious organizations represent the largest number of chartering organizations of Boy Scout troops across the county, and at least two large religious sects have threatened to pull all of their charters (and ultimately put Scouting out of business) if the Boy Scouts of America do not maintain a hard line on gay membership. Additionally, many large corporations with non-discrimination policies have withdrawn funding as a result of Scouting’s ban on gays.

So…who is more deserving of our respect?

  • The loony, naked Scotsman who’s willing to give up his freedom to maintain his ideals.

or

  • The respected youth organization that’s willing to compromise its stated underlying values to ensure its own existence.

It’s time for Scouting to man-up; to refuse to be blackmailed by its chartering organizations and financial supporters, regardless of the consequences. Time for Scouting to determine its own future. Time for Scouting to walk the talk…with or without its uniform on.

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