Leaders of Troop 207 in Cedar Mill, Ore., invited me to speak at a Boy Scout Eagle ceremony a decade ago, and I leaped at the opportunity.
I had been a Boy Scout, Troop 200 in Fraser, Pa., though I wasn’t a terribly good one. Our scoutmaster was a former U.S. Army officer who had us spend an inordinate amount of time marching in the church parking lot. I was a Tenderfoot, about to make Second Class.
As I prepared for my speech at the Eagle ceremony, I dipped into my old Boy Scout Handbook.
I’m not sure what the handbook looks like now, but I doubt it’s too different. The first part of the handbook covers the basics: uniform, saluting, the Scout’s Oath, and so on. The back includes technical stuff like knots, tenting, fires, cooking, bedding and the survival techniques scouts learn. They’re important lessons, particularly for a kid like I was, age 11 in 1971 and living then in suburban Philadelphia.
My handbook looked like a 1950s-era parody of the ideal boy. I do not recall that it portrayed scouts who weren’t white. Still, it served its purpose.
Much of my scouting experience has stuck. I learned what not to do when camping. Do not pack the big pot in a frameless backpack so it pounds on your spine. Do not wear brand new leather hiking boots on a long hike. I still remember the blister.
If you were to wake me at 3 a.m., I still would recall the 12 Scout Laws: Trustworthy. Loyal. Helpful. Friendly. Courteous. Kind. Obedient. Cheerful. Thrifty. Brave. Clean. Reverent.
I am some of these, maybe most of them, though sometimes I fall short of being reverent. But I try. I think about them, because that’s what scouting did for me. It gave me a reference point for adulthood, and a guide to decency.
As I stood before the boys who were about to become Eagle Scouts in Cedar Mill, I held up the battered copy of my Boy Scout Handbook and told them they’d be surprised how useful it might be to them in 2045.
Maybe they wouldn’t live up to all of it. Maybe they’d need to look up a clove hitch. But to be a scout is to have learned some things.
Listening to President Donald Trump’s political rant before the National Boy Scout Jamboree saddened me. It was clear he had never been a scout.
It was a crass new low among the many lows in his presidency, not unlike the time he lied about the inauguration crowd size during a speech in front of the memorial to fallen CIA officers. At least the CIA audience was made up of adults who could see Trump for what he is: a narcissistic boor, and indecent.
Wide-eyed Boy Scouts are taught to respect their elders and look up to our nation’s leader. It probably never occurred to this leader that he shouldn’t swear in front of 40,000 Boy Scouts, or that he shouldn’t ask: “Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts? Right?”
Right. No one.
Our president should have read the Boy Scout Handbook in preparation for his appearance, starting with the 12 Scout Laws. He would have learned something.