– The observation of consequences (reward and punishment) is an important part of learning moral values.
This is Part 5 in my series on “Morality” as derived from my new eBook “Stand Up for MORALITY.”
In Part 4 we discussed how Morality is taught and learned. Here, in Part 5, consider the other institutions affecting morality.
Let us also consider the other institutions affecting morality:
FAMILY – it is the inherent duty of parents to teach the lessons of right and wrong to their offspring, either at the dinner table or by being a role model. However, due to the economic pressures of today, more and more are taking a “hands off” approach for teaching morality to their children, thereby defaulting the responsibility to others. Many simply do not grasp the significance of it.
SCHOOLS – still have a role to play, but mostly on issues relating to cheating, plagiarism, and general conduct (fighting, tardiness, absenteeism). Formal training on morality is certainly not in the mix. Consider this, reciting the pledge of allegiance to the flag is now considered optional in many schools.
COMPANIES – establish codes of conduct, but somehow immoral practices still surface in the cutthroat world of business. Too often, companies fail to practice what they preach.
NONPROFITS – youth sports programs and scouting were originally designed to teach such things as citizenship and “fair play.” To illustrate, consider their Oaths, Laws, and Pledges:
Boy Scout Oath
On my honor I will do my best To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.
A Scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, Reverent.
Little League Pledge
I trust in God I love my country And will respect its laws I will play fair And strive to win But win or lose I will always do my best.
Despite their good intentions, such organizations are experiencing a decline in membership. For example:
“The organization, long an icon of wholesomeness in a simpler America, has seen its membership plunge by 42 percent since its peak year of 1973, when there were 4.8 million scouts. In the last decade alone, membership has dropped by more than 16 percent, to 2.8 million.”
“As for Little League, which covers kids aged 4 to 18, about two million kids played in the U.S. last year, compared to about 2.5 million in 1996—an overall decline of 25%.” – Wall Street Journal “Has Baseball’s Moment Passed?” March 31, 2011
Fraternal organizations, who also claim to promote morality, and organized religion are also in decline. Consider the Freemasons and their allied bodies, such as the Shrine, Grotto, Eastern Star, Scottish Rite, York Rite, Job’s Daughters, DeMolay, Rainbow Girls, et al. Membership in the Masons is in serious decline. So much so, Lodges and chapters of the various allied bodies are shrinking and closing their doors. According to the Masonic Service Association, membership in the Masons (in the United States) has dropped 68% since its high in 1959.
Attendance at church services has also dropped over the last fifty years, but appears to have stabilized, particularly as the Baby Boomers grow older. In December 2012, Gallup reported New England and the Northwest are now considered the most non-religious states in the country (with the South being the most religious). It’s hard to believe New England, the birthplace of many of our founding fathers, has retreated on religion.
Is the decline of fraternal and religious institutions indicative they are not keeping up with the times or are the attitudes of the public changing in terms of participating in such perceived moralistic organizations? Probably both. Are we really ashamed of participating in such organizations or are we being conditioned to think this way? I suspect the latter.
In the absence of everything else, our youth learn morality and religion from the media as delivered through technology. If morality and religion is lampooned, youth will take note and likely follow suit. It is rather sad when Hollywood has more sway in influencing children than their own parents.
SOME BASIC MORAL RULES
Let’s try to define some basic moral values that all can accept. This should be done as a group discussion, be it at the dinner table or office. Here are some commonly referenced values:
* Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
* Respect elders and those in superior position.
* Adhere to the laws, rules and regulations of the land.
* Help, aid, and assist all persons less fortunate, as I am able to.
* Not wrong, cheat or defraud another.
* Respect the property of others.
* Work faithfully, professionally, and industriously for those employing my services.
* Respect the dignity of the human spirit and treat people equitably.
Having looked at the past 100 years of the Boy Scouts, it is important to spend some time on their organization so as to put into perspective how it operates and perhaps take a lesson for how a member centric organization functions with a national leadership while still retaining its local focus. The value of having a national organization is easy to see when you look beyond the titles and examine the work being performed in service to the organization. Rather than platitudes and titles, an engine of progress and motion is working behind the scenes to grow, nurture, and build the overall brand, something that Freemasonry does not have in a way comparable to that of the BSA.
An initial aspect of interest with the Boy Scouts as a body is that the national organization structure removes the diversity of individual states from practicing Scouting in their own manner and sets a national standard by which the entire body adheres to. Further it delegates down from the top to the increasingly more local organizations the management and practice down to the Troop level through committees and charter councils. At the lowest rungs the troop becomes, like the lodge, the local corporate unit, still broken into patrols which function within the troop. This seems to have allowed for the troops to retain a diversity of its local community from which the members reside.
An interesting aspect of juxtapose is to look at the Scout Troop to a system, more familiar to readers, of the Masonic lodge. Troops are made up of members from the local community, staffed by their parents and guardians, and chartered by an organization (church, civic group, business, etc) to operate. The group meets in weekly meetings for the purpose of training, planning, rank progression, with a variety of activities taking place at any given time. The meeting has leadership that directs it (similar to a Worshipful Master) with junior officers (like the Wardens) who assist where and when necessary. The meetings have a distinct purpose however, and like a corporate business meeting, it breaks out into teams to accomplish its various tasks, something unlike a Masonic Lodge meeting.
To appreciate the local operation, we should look at how the Scouts operate from a national level that makes its way to the troops.
First Masonry, as most readers will know, is based on a lodge system with each local lodge reporting loosely to a regional management (or District Inspector) but directly through its charter reports to a state level governance, called the Grand Lodge. In North American Masonry, the reporting structure stops there as directives, edicts, publications, and announcements come from it. The Grand Lodge also functions as the state point of contact for marketing, brand protection, and broader national communication. In a direct line, the individual Mason reports to a lodge, and the lodge to a Grand Lodge. In this line of succession there is some blurred lines of responsibility as to public interaction and marketing go (if any exist at all), and practice is set by the Grand Lodge based loosely on its custom which varies in nuance from state to state in dress, recognition between bodies, landmarks of the institution, and custom. At a high level lodges have similar practice, but custom and dress has a great degree of variance from local lodges between states, because of a lack of standardization. Observational, this has created silo’s of Freemasonry rather than a unified national body as with the Boy Scouts. Perhaps in its founding this was an organizational hazard and part of its planned incorporation to cultivate a unified message and purpose.
Structurally, the Boy Scout’s are localized at every level so as to meet the needs of its constituency. Diagrammatically, the troop reports to a unit committee, which reports to the Chartered Organization which then reports to a District, and then a Local Council. The Local council in return reports up to an Area Committee, which then report to a Regional who in turn reports to a National Council.
By reporting level this looks like:
National Council, BSA
This level is the overall leadership in the Executive Board and sets the general direction of the of the work of the Scouts. This Board is entirely volunteer except for the National Commissioner, International Commissioner, and the Chief Scout Executive. The Council develops programs; sets and maintains quality standards in training, leadership selection, uniforming, registration records, literature development, and advancement requirements. It does not directly administer to the troops, packs, venturing crews, etc, rather it delegates downward.
Regional Council (Committee and Board)
The country is broken into Regions for better management and governed by a Regional Committee and Council. The Council exercises the authority and responsibility of the Regional Committee whenever the Regional Committee is not in session but both function to implement national BSA policy and programs. Additionally it plans events and activities for its specific region and to train members of the various standing committees. All members at this level are also volunteers.
The Regional Board conducts the affairs of Scouting in the region on a day to day basis in conformity with regional committee and board policy
Regions are further broken into areas where the Area council functions similarly o the Regional in setting, managing, and implementing local activities.
Local councils are usually not-for-profit private corporations registered within the State in which they are headquartered, they administer any program they wish in the BSA portfolio through an annually issued charter to administer the BSA programs in their area. To hold the charter the Council adheres to certain program, financial and accounting standards. Local councils are privately funded and are not financially linked to the National Council or local units. Funding comes from donations, corporate sponsors, and special events. The local council is led by volunteers, with administration performed by a staff of professional Scouters. The Council President is the top volunteer; the Scout Executive is the top professional. In many ways this appears as essentially a franchise from the national body.
Local Councils promote the Scouting programs, register units and personnel, provide facilities and leadership for year-round outdoor programs and summer camps, and insure the general principals of scouting are adhered to. Additionally they insure the integrity of the merit badge system, ensures badges-and insignia are protected, and provide training to the Local Units and community groups using the Scouting program. Most importantly the Local Council sets the standards in Scout policies (locally).
Local Councils report to Regional Councils on finances, scouting membership, numbers of scouts attending camps and on their review of charter renewal applications for the Troops and Packs.
The District is an optional add-on to mobilize resources in the growth and success of Scouting units in the area. Traditionally they are composed of volunteers, and provide training, and programs for Scouts.
This is the sponsoring body that owns and runs a particular Scout Troop granted as a franchise of sorts) to operate a Boy Scout unit. Typically the chartered organization has goals similar to the Scouting organization such as a school, church, civic organization, business, etc. The chartering organization provides a meeting place for the Scouts, selects a Scoutmaster, approves unit leadership and provides a representative to liaise with the Troop.
The Unit committee is three composed of three or more qualified adults selected by the chartered organization who’s responsibility is to deliver quality unit programs, manage unit administration, and utilizes programs to accomplish the Troops goals and development.
Individual Unit – Troop
The Unit is composed of the Scouts themselves, which are broken into patrols which have their own structure of operation including Scribes, Quartermasters, Librarians, Chaplin, Guides, Historians, Assistant Patrol Leaders, and instructors, as well as many others. This is the essential functioning component of the Scouts and the most fundamental expression of the Boy Scouts purpose.
At the Troop level, then, is the foundation of the Scouts life, like the Lodge for the Mason. The Troop is a fluid body of new and returning members which functions to facilitate the Scout experience. Meetings consist of training on the basis of First aid to the types of lashings to affix two or more poles together. A function of the Scout meeting is the individual progress of the Scouts. Unlike Masonry, the Boy Scouts have a variety of testable points by which the candidate progresses. These points, spread between merit badges, knot tying, projects, teaching, and memorization. These processes serve to bring the Scout into a tight relationship with the corporate body, progressing through a series of ranks demarcated with each subsequent achievement. It’s in these progressions that a highly valuable lesson is taught to the member , lessons retained for the rest of their life. For example the Scout learns the fundamentals of first aid, how to tie a knot to secure materials in place, conservation, leadership, and even how to plan a complex and multi thousand dollar project. All of this takes place weekly at the recurring troop meeting.
As you can see, the organization is deep in that there is a tremendous infrastructure to protect its purpose and product. One of the most notable elements in recent history is the close and careful cultivation of the Boy Scout Brand which is one of its strongest corporate properties and essentially the product itself which is licensed or franchised to the Chartering body.
This level of brand development/protection is outside the capacity of Masonry at present and likely the cause of its slip in public awareness (especially when contrasted in the work of the Shrine which has a highly cultivated presence and brand). The model of the Scouts organization is something that Masonry can take a lesson from in several ways. First to disassociate the idea of the Lodge as the focal point for the group activity which allows the attention instead to be focused on activities, projects, and community engagement rather than utility bills and infrastructure management. The importance of the body of work performed out shines the landed importance on the place in which the work takes place. This is not to suggest a franchising, but the experimentation of an un-landed lodge (like a traveling lodge) that can focus on its community involvement by literally being in the community.
Also, having a National Organization, unlike the Masonic Grand Lodge system, allows for a specific set of standardized processes that can be made universal so that each operating lodge has a basis of operation integrity especially when coupled with a leadership structure which allows the adoption of locally flavored practice and preferences with permutations built into the foundational rules local users. In essence, the infrastructure allows for the BSA Troops to operate without worry as to what they are in operation of, they have a National Standard of material and an activity chain of National command supporting and growing the organization. We can see this in the basic principal of the Boy Scout Handbook where essentially the codex of Scouting resides.
Responsibility still ultimately falls on the local body, but with an arsenal of tools, training, a strong stable brand, and a national level of marketing the work of the local can more specifically focus on the work of building Boy Scouts.
In conceiving the organization, its easy to say that it is a complex model of operation. Boy Scout Troops are thriving across the country (and world) and continue to offer programs for young people. A Wikipedia article on recent Boy Scout Controversies places numbers just over 2.7 million members (in all Scouting groups) as of 2009, with a similar downward trend that Freemasonry is experiencing (roughly a 22% average per decade loss).
Without a doubt there are many lessons to take away from the Boy Scouts, from their history, their operation, and their organization. Unlike most century old institutions, looking at what has taken shape in the last 100 years to coalesce into what it is today, an outsider can be encouraged to imagine what the Boy Scouts of America will become in its next century. Strong leadership from early visionaries and a strong organizational foundation has allowed for the progression of a clear vision of purpose to promote “patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred values”, all of which the Boy Scouts have cultivated. They are truly an American institution and an asset to the spirit of young people everywhere. Being Prepared is every bit the noble endeavor it seems and on so many levels the very basis of shaping young men for the ideal of civic engagement to become good men.
All in all, the Boy Scouts have had a stellar century and this centennial celebration is a milestone in American culture and a monumental achievement for American youth, to which the only thing to say is congratulations on a terrific organization. It is absolutely one that Freemasonry should take note from in both its operation and its outlook. The Scouts sprang up in the minds of those who saw the need for action in the face of a rapidly changing nation, foreshadowing the national call to instill values in children, and it still blazes a trail to educate, motivate, and activate the imagination and active civic expression in fast maturing boys. Despite recent controversies, the Boy Scouts is still a member run organization operating in a manner to uphold its principals which perhaps puts it at odds with the present day zeitgeist of multiple perspectives and ever shifting outlooks. But, just as it adapted to a changing world in 1910, so too have the Scouts emerged to embrace the 21st century at its 2010 centennial.
If you want to support your local Scouting body, I encourage you to visit the Boy Scouts of America web site. Or, with your donation, help support scouting through their fund raising which supports their camps, equipment, and uniforms.
Or, if you have a young man looking to improve himself, I recommend joining the Scouts today.
There are many stories about how the Boy Scouts came into existence: Unknown Scouts on foggy London streets, clubs organized for wayward boys, or alternative organizations to an increasingly urbanized way of life. What is for sure is the zeitgeist, or spirit of the age, in which the idea of the Scouts emerged.
In short, as the middle class began to take shape in early 20th century and families moved from rural farms to urban city, there was a growing concern among some about the loss of patriotism and individualism instilled in young people. Part of that drive was a sort of early social welfare that included programs to provide physical, mental, and spiritual development for those who wanted them. The YMCA was an early promoter of these reforms and an early proponent (and organizer) for the Scouts which in quick turn, in 1910, incorporated as the Boy Scouts of America with the express purpose of teaching boys “…patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred values.” The Scouts first Director, Edgar Robinson was a former YMCA administrator who brought his skills and expertise and applied them to the newly formed Boy Scouts.
The prospect of a National Boys movement as such even garnered a national Federal Charter by Congress in 1916 as both a Patriotic and National organization.
What the scouts captured was an ideal citizen, a compassionate, reverent, and committed member. The ideal of this is codified in its mission statement which has gone through some evolution from its origins to present day.
1936 – “Each generation as it comes to maturity has no more important duty than that of teaching high ideals and proper behavior to the generation which follows.”
2008 – “to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law”
Two notable predecessors of the Boy Scouts in the United States were the Woodcraft Indians started by Ernest Thompson Seton at Cos Cob, Connecticut, in 1902 and the Sons of Daniel Boone founded by Daniel Carter Beard in 1905 at Cincinnati, Ohio. A more pronounced source came in 1907 from the founding of the Scouting movement in England by British General Robert Baden-Powell who used elements of Seton’s works to create Several small local scouting programs for boys.
“In 1909, Chicago publisher W. D. Boyce was visiting London, where he encountered the Unknown Scout and learned of the Scouting movement. Soon after his return to the U.S., Boyce incorporated the Boy Scouts of America on February 8, 1910. Edgar M. Robinson and Lee F. Hanmer became interested in the nascent BSA movement and convinced Boyce to turn the program over to the YMCA for development in April 1910. Robinson enlisted Seton, Beard, Charles Eastman and other prominent leaders in the early youth movements. In January 1911, Robinson turned the movement over to James E. West who became the first Chief Scout Executive and Scouting began to expand in the U.S.”
It makes for an interesting Masonic aside to find the parallels between Masonry and Scouting, yet only a few concrete connections to American Freemasonry can be found that have carried to present day.
First of those connections being through Daniel Carter Beard and his Sons of Daniel Boone, of which a notable Masonic award exists today for the support of Freemasonry and Boy Scouting aptly called the Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award which is presented to any Master Mason who has made significant contributions to youth through Scouting. This is a selective award, the purpose of which is to recognize the recipient’s outstanding service to youth through the Boy Scouts of America.
A second, and perhaps more prevalent in the daily operation of lodge and troop, is the National Association of Masonic Scouters which works to foster and develop support for Boy Scouts of America by and among Freemasons while upholding the tenants of Freemasonry.
A third connection is a bit more at the root of the early organization. Following Robinson as director of the newly formed BSA, James E. West was appointed director. West also happened to be a Freemason (complete records of his lodge affiliations have been a challenge to find).
In his career, West was instrumental in the early Scouts being a strong champion for it on many fronts, building its acceptance and credibility to many groups including the unions who disliked its early anti organizing language and with the Catholic Church (which at first prohibited membership because of its non Catholic start with the then very protestant YMCA).
Looking beyond Beards contribution and West’s obvious affiliations to Masonry, another possible Masonic connection to the Boy Scouts comes through Baden-Powell himself.
Much has been written on this subject, and its easy to find many references that say that Baden-Powell was NOT a Freemason (including a letter from then UGLE Secretary J. MacDonald in 1990) , and that the Scouts were in no way a Masonic club for boys.
Despite the similarities between the two and the obvious awards and rank progression it is possible, however, to find a small connection to Baden-Powell and Masonry through Rudyard Kipling, who, as many readers will know, was a very prolific Mason and who took his Masonry very seriously in both his works of fiction (See the The Man Who Would Be King film and its original book) and in his poetry (see The Mother Lodge). Baden-Powell and Kipling kept very close association from the start of their friendship which began somewhere between 1882 and 1884 in Lahare, India. Its doubtful to say that the friendship led to a Masonry based civic organization for boys, but its possible to see how through conversation and comparison some elements might have been wound together, especially as you read more extensively into their friendship which continued for many years until their passing.
Further, its more likely to see how the spirit of the age contributed to the early Scouting movement, especially as youth orders seemed to lend themselves to more grown up responsibilities expressed, in some measure, through the British Scout Defense corps (or even perhaps in the more nefarious Hitler Youth which existed from 1922 to 1945, the Young
Soviet Pioneers from 1922 – 1991, or even more alarming the American Boy Scouts which was a parallel of the Boy Scouts of America which existed from 1910-1920 and organized as a more militaristic program to train boys). A bolder aspect of this ideal of civic citizen contribution can perhaps be seen in the Civil Conservation Corps which had a two fold aspect of building the well-being of the country and putting unemployed men to work. In that same period there was a growing sense of losing the youth to the changing society, and the Boy Scouts were an early precognition of just how important it was to keep the youth engaged and conscious to civic involvement. In the years following the BSA incorporation, Eleanor Roosevelt was a champion for youth engagement as she championed in 1930 the American Youth Congress which saw, then as now, the need to engage youth and instill values.
But, from the relationship of Baden-Powell and Kipling, and this spirit of the age, came the essence of what would become the Cub Scouts taking shape from Kipling’s work “The Jungle Book” published n 1893 (the Disney film came out in 194s) . The Wolf Cubs, as Baden-Powell had styled them, felt that the Jungle Book was every bit suitable to the idea of youth scouting. Kipling was in such agreement that he even contributed much of his Jungle Book to it including the exact method of the Wolf Cub howl instructing its call as:
“A-KAY-Lar with an accent on the second syllable which can be prolonged indefinitely. The initial A on the other hand is almost a grunt – ‘Er’- Try this and you will see the beauty of the thing.”
Some other notable elements from The Jungle book that made there way into the Cub Scouts include “Law of the Pack,” “Akela,” “Wolf Cub,” “grand howl,” “den,” and “pack” all (and more) used with Kipling’s blessing.
The obvious connections aside, Freemasonry and the Boy Scouts have a few other traces in common. One less obvious but perhaps overt connection is in the Order of the Arrow, created in 1915, which has been described as a Masonic ritual embedded into the Boy Scout organization.
Created by E. Uner Goodman and Carroll Edison, the two collaborated to make a club within the club – to create a camp fraternity to improve the Scout’s summer camp experience.
Goodman and Edson decided that a “camp fraternity” was the way to improve the summer camp experience and to keep the older boys coming back. In developing this program they borrowed from the traditions and practices of several other organizations. Edward Cave’s Boy’s Camp Book was consulted for the concept of a camp society that would perpetuate camp traditions. College fraternities were also influential for their concepts of brotherhood and rituals, and the idea of new members pledging themselves to the new organization. Ernest Thompson Seton’s Woodcraft Indians program was also consulted for its use of American Indian lore to make the organization interesting and appealing to youth. Other influences include the Brotherhood of Andrew and Phillip, a Presbyterian church youth group with which Goodman had been involved as a young man, and Freemasonry. The traditions and rituals of the latter contributed more to the basic structure of the rituals than any other organization. In an interview with Edson during his later years, he recalled that the task of writing the first rituals of the society was assigned to an early member who was “a 32nd degree Mason.” Familiar terms such as “lodge” and “obligation,” were borrowed from Masonic practice, as were some ceremonial practices. Even the early national meeting was called a “Grand Lodge,” thought to be a Masonic reference. Goodman became a Mason only after the OA was established.
Goodman was Raised in Lamberton Lodge No. 487, Philadelphia, Pa. about 1917 according to Denslow’s 10,000 Famous Freemasons.
The aim of the order of the arrow is to allow Scouts to choose from among their numbers the individual who best exemplifies the ideals of Scouting. Those selected are to embody a spirit of unselfish service and brotherhood.
Goodman said of it:
“The Order of the Arrow is a ‘thing of the spirit’ rather than of mechanics. Organization, operational procedure, and paraphernalia are necessary in any large and growing movement, but they are not what count in the end. The things of the spirit count: Brotherhood, in a day when there is too much hatred at home and abroad; Cheerfulness, in a day when the pessimists have the floor; Service, in a day when millions are interested only in getting or grasping rather than giving.”
From the other side of the threshold there are some Masonic Grand Lodges that recognize cross over clubs like the National Association of Masonic Scouters and promotes a greater level of interactivity with troops. The most significant interactions with Freemasonry today, however, are those Masons with sons who have served in some capacity in the leadership of their Troop or Local Council.
Freemasonry does not rank in the top 10 of organizations that support the Scouts (the top 5 being the LDS Church, the Methodist Church, the Roman Catholic Church, PTA Groups, and private citizen groups) which is a terrible missed opportunity for lodges to engage and support an organization in such affinity to its own ideals. The reason for this I can only extrapolate is that Scouting is perceived to encroach on its own membership from participating in DeMolay, the Masonic youth order, founded in 1919.
With this briefest glimpse at the Scouts origins, the next step is to look at its organization to appreciate its flexible and member friendly approach to put the priority on the Scouter and less on the place the Scouts practice.
2010 marked a significant milestone in the lives of young men all across the continent as the Boys Scouts of America celebrated its 100th Anniversary.
Started in 1906 the Boy Scouts, in the course of a few short years and group mergers, took its present shape in 1910 to become the premier young mans organization that it is today. Premier because few organizations produce the quality young men that the Eagle Scout embodies. For its adult leadership, the Wood Badge is the mature persons Eagle Scout equivalent which embodies the spirit of the Scouts into the adult leader who assumes the leadership role to guide the young men up that progressive climb.
Said by some to be a quagmire of paperwork, the BSA is a mostly volunteer organization composed of parents and interested community members to guide its course. At the local level, troops (like lodges) are individually chartered and provide a space in which the member boys meet.
Like Freemasonry, the Scouts are a private membership organization that through and through is values-based. At its core is the teaching of being a responsible citizen, character development, educational programs, and self-reliance through participation in a wide range of outdoor activities.
The Scout Oath sums very squarely what it represents as it states:
On my honor I will do my best To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.
Which is in turn supported by the Scout Law which says:
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
Both statements are meritorious to any individual that applies them to their life, but the Boy Scouts weave these ideas into the very fiber of the organization such that it becomes as much a part of the members being, as the characteristic brown and green uniform.
It is very much a way of life, with an optimistic way to look at a past ideal of social virtue and civic engagement, something little seen today and even less instilled in young men. This social virtue is so much a component of the Boy Scouts that the highest rank, the Eagle Scout, is predicated on the completion of a service project for one of the communities in which the scout circulates. By its very conduct it is very easy to see that the ideal of a Boy Scout sums into the ideal of Leadership, Achievement, Character, Service, and Environmental Appreciation (did I mention the Scouts camp a lot?).
From a Masonic point of view, we can see the similarity to the aims of the organization in its workings. Both have a progressive line of promotion that elevates the junior member to a higher standing within the body – Tenderfoot to Eagle/Apprentice to Master – predicated on a set of civic principals and virtues of self improvement.
In the Masonic Lodge, the degree of Master as the most common level of lodge practice, the Scouts conduct meetings with all grades in attendance and impressively with greater participation, as they see all the participants as contributors to the units prosperity.
This mixed rank participation allows more experienced members to interact with younger scouts to teach, train, and impart their experience to those who will one day hold those elder leadership positions.
Unlike Masonry, the Boy Scouts has an age cap in which the youth in attendance need progress to his ability before he comes of age at 18. There is some latitude for those working on their Eagle Rank, but essentially, the Scouting door closes at the 18th birthday. That does not, however, eradicate the youths ability to continue on with the experiences of Scouting as there is a secondary body called the Venturing which has an older age ceiling with further rank advancement and meritorious awards. But, once a scout always a scout and opportunities abound for mature scouts to volunteer with his troop, mentor up and coming scouts, and evolve into a Scout Master in the future.
Also, for the college bound scout, there is a college fraternity – Alpha Phi Omega or APO which is roughly 17,000 students strong and more than 350,000 alumni. The purpose of APO is a service fraternity with principals derived from the Scout Oath and Law to promote leadership and service to humanity. This collegiate fraternity is a natural next-step for any Scout looking to continue his scouting path at university.
One important aspect of the Boy Scouts is faith, something that is inherent in scouting, but not in a fundamental way.
The official word on faith in Scouting is:
Scouting encourages each young person to begin a spiritual journey through the practice of his or her faith tradition. One of the key tenets of Scouting is “duty to God.” While Scouting does not define religious belief for its members, it has been adopted by and works with youth programs of all major faiths.
This is very similar to the Masonic ideal of faith in a supreme being with out an expressed definition of what that faith is. Unlike the Scouts, Masonry uses the Bible as the principal sacred book where as the scouts have developed a Religious Emblems Program to broaden the individual scouts faith and honor the various faiths of its membership. The groups range from the African Methodist Episcopal Church to Zoroastrianism.
Now that we have an idea of who and what the Scouts are today the next logical step is to look at where the Boy Scouts of America came from, which presents some interesting insight to the zeitgeist of the beginning 20th century and some possible unseen Masonic connections at its origin.
Things have been quiet on the inter-webs in recent weeks as we start the slow descent down the calendar page to the holidays. Especially as most of north America is under the first major winter storm, I write this as my balmy So Cal thermometer outside tells me its 33 degrees (appropriate, I know).
A question someone asked me recently is if Masonry is relevant today in this age before I could break into the usual elevator speech, I paused for a second to think about the question, and further, to consider the implication of the immediate yes that was already starting to roll off my tongue.
Just like the weather, relativity changes with time, activity, and interest. Relativity seems to go up and down running hot at times as some controversy or exciting event is taking place, or cold in periods of little activity or action. That ultimately, relevance is relative. And in those nanoseconds of answering the question, the thought went to the higher outlook to ask is it relative in an age that itself questions its own relativity.
With so many variables, how can one possible answer (let alone assimilate) the question. Relative is relative. Each individual member, through his own thoughts and outlook, holds the answer. Is it relative, and if so why? But, if your mind drifted to no, then why not? Because it is a member run organization (like the Boy Scouts) relativity is a self generated energy, that is as imaginative as a lodge (or an individual member) can be, then so too will the fraternity be just as imaginative.
Relative becomes our relativity.
A very good friend and brother said to me once that to be interesting you need to be interested, and this applies to all aspects of life, home, work, family, faith, and fraternity. Imagine your relative shift with a subtle adjustment of interest. The relativity of the idea takes on the qualities of your outlook, relativity matches your relativity to the subject.
The short answer to the question asked of me was yes, Freemasonry is relative, for the simple reason that I see it as so. It’s important to me and vary valuable, and that my relativity of it is relevant.