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. . . To Do my Duty… to try to control only myself, and no one else.

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Where to begin?

I could begin with explaining that line: “You can only control yourself, no one else.”

I say this to my son all the time. Probably too much. In fact, I have preached it to him since (probably) long before he could grasp it. (Of course, it was long before. We could probably find evidence every day that even most adults do not yet understand the lesson.) The lesson being that we can really only control ourselves and no one else; or perhaps more accurately, we should try to control only ourselves and not try to control others.

Rovering to Success - cover, color

I could begin with the old traditions of Scouting, as written in some of the earliest literature; things that are explicit, things that seem to be implicit, for example, in one of my favorite books – a title by Lord Robert Baden-Powell himself, Rovering to Success. Explicit and implicit within the Boy Scout Handbook itself and the multitude of editions and iterations over the years of that sacred document – world-wide all-time best-seller, second only to the Bible.

I could begin with discussion of a changed world, an evolved society. This would necessarily delve into the beginnings of Scouting, at least in the United States, and written requirements for membership and how they have changed over the years. It would also consider the introduction of women and girls and what it means to develop manhood, to exercise chivalry and self-reliance and to develop an independent, confident and knowledgeable nature. We would also examine the parameters within which prospective Chartered Organizations are expected to operate, and so on.

I could likewise begin with a discussion of constitutional issues; that is, the United States Constitution. Scouting is a worldwide movement, but of course, here in the US it is our country’s Constitution that is intended to protect everyone and their organizations. This would then fall to the applicable Amendments and their proper application to the Boy Scouts of America as well as the basis of the charter granted the BSA by Congress in 1916.

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The Boy Scouts of America made a historic and monumental decision public this past week with regard to their change in policy toward openly-gay youth membership.

When I heard this latest version of the national level discussion early this year, I thought I would write a piece about it. In fact, I felt a sort of duty, an obligation – compelled, yet confused and so, perhaps wisely – cautious.

I decided that if I were to write something I would begin by stating that although [at that time] the decision and subsequent announcement were still three months away, I figured that by the time the issue had arrived on the national scene in the way it had and on the scale it had, it was a done deal. I was right, though at the time I chose restraint, or hesitation, or avoidance, or all that, I suppose.

I remained fixed in that state of confusion between discouragement and uncertainty and self-testing and caution and temperance and emotions inflamed, and decided I must slow down and first read and think.

There would be the several books mentioned above and also other, unwritten but very valuable personal references and private considerations. I remained, as with many things I consider writing about, unsure of myself, to include my position and cause, my moral authority (or lack of it), my experiential perspective and authority, my ability to fairly and fully examine and articulate every important, relevant aspect, and so on. In short, I lacked confidence. I think to some extent, I still do.

bshb7

Nevertheless, with the decision officially made and announced, I decided to go ahead.

My aim here, then, is to lay the road clear and unambiguous as to the proper separation, consideration and weighting of the several key aspects of the issue.

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So I think I’ll begin where I began, and it really begins with the Scout Oath itself.

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“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.”

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It is deliberate and significant that I begin with this concept: that I control only myself, and no one else.

To intrude upon another is at best foolish, unwise and unfruitful and at worst, well…intrusive, and long lasting and destructive.

It is appropriate to try to persuade and influence others. This can be important and even virtuous, given the import of the issue. It is a valuable, admirable and useful attribute in one’s character to possess the confidence coupled with knowledge and understanding and wisdom to be able to go forward to persuade and influence others when something is important. By contrast, to try to control others in their thinking and behavior moves into problematic and oft times unproductive if not damaging territory.

So the application of the tenet in the Scout Oath, “to keep myself morally straight” must be considered first and foremost within an individual context – of each and every one of us – ourselves first. We must focus on what we ourselves choose to do.

When it comes to the question, perhaps even the choice, as to how we treat someone whom we know to be gay, we must choose to control our own attitudes, our own decisions, our own behavior, regardless of what that gay person chooses to do.

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The first Boy Scout Handbook I owned is (I still have it) the seventh edition, printed in January of 1971. It is interesting to read now, and not very differently at all from the edition of Rovering to Success I have – the eleventh printing, dated 1930 – the discussion then presented on “Morally Straight” (page 436). It reads, in part:

“Your conscience speaks to you about your relationship to other people – respecting their rights, treating them justly, giving them a fair chance.”

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This is the interpretation of the Scout Oath I believe is right: That our treatment of the gay person in our midst will execute the verdict as to our moral straightness. It is in this that you see I cannot, really, and must not try to control someone else – or someone else’s behavior or beliefs – but that I can and should choose to control myself. That would not be successful anyway. Focus on my task; not someone else’s.

– – –

This must define “morally straight.”

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This baseline of rationale leads into the following aspect: the freedoms we enjoy in this country we inherit by virtue of our humanness. The freedoms addressed in the Bill of Rights (we would do well to always refer to them as Our Bill of Rights), and specifically the First Amendment to the Constitution – they are our birthright.

This is where clarifying chastisement is warranted.

The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press, as well as the right to assemble and to petition the government. Applicable to question of admission, or acceptance – or not – of gay persons to Scouting is dealt with in this Amendment; essentially the Freedom of Association.

This is the key point at which so many misguided individuals and groups have attempted to intrude not only upon the Boy Scouts’ corporate rights, but in effect, all American’s right to freely choose their associations. This now speaks to the Charter issued to the BSA by Congress. Even Congress recognized – and supported – Scouting’s right to determine their standards of membership. In short, it must be seen clearly that if this right – this freedom – were denied the BSA, it could in the same way, be denied anyone.

Bill_of_Rights_Pg1of1_AC

One must fairly recognize that forcing another to adopt their way of thinking, beliefs, behaviors, etc. removes the most basic and fundamental freedom of all.

We chose long ago in this country, through the careful development and adoption of our Constitution, that we would not live that way. We choose to be free and let be free; to live and let live. This is why the BSA has not and will not lose this challenge in the United States Supreme Court. I would argue the Court should never have heard such a case to begin with. Now that they have, and more than once, let the ruling – and the lesson – and the reminder – stand. We ALL must be free.

It is important to realize then, that the decision to change is a personal one. In the case of the Boy Scouts of America, theirs was a corporate choice, but as a private and free organization. The debate and controversy over motivation should stand as a distinct and separate discussion. It begins to enter the realm of persuasion and influence. But the fundamental freedom to choose must remain as distinct and inviolate. If it does not, then we all – every individual and every group – are under threat of tyranny.

If any of you believed the courts should rule against Scouting and force it to change their membership standards, then shame. You would do well to consider and understand the ramifications. You and yours would be next. Every protection you had spent your life being free to not think about would suddenly be removed. It would then only be the question of “who is next?”

Beyond this, shame on all those who wished to deny Scouting – and hence any group – the freedom to determine their own way.

To attempt to persuade and influence is good and right, if a belief is sincerely held. To deny freedom is heinous.

There are aspects of any organization that may be found disagreeable if not outright offensive to someone.

A story was once related to me of a seminary student who was removed from the school – in protest – because it was their belief that the Church must not be required to accept and approve of his open declaration of homosexuality. He wrote a long and detailed condemnation of the seminary’s position. In this, he wished to control the church, and in doing so, he would effectively deny them their freedom. Why instead did he not prefer to go on to a place where he found agreement?

Now apply this litmus test: what if they had been wrong, even hateful in their stance?

Must the courts or the pressures felt internally determine then that the church – ergo, any individual or group – must not be free to choose their way if another believes it to be wrong? Then what of anyone’s freedom? Instead, that individual maintains his freedom to change his association to another group, one that he finds himself to be in agreement with. Imagine if the courts instead took away the church’s freedom to choose and allowed another to impose their will by force. You must see that freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, then, would be a thing of the past.

The philosophical illustrations are myriad, pointed and obvious. Suffice it to say, if these freedoms are denied one, then are denied all. As it is, we are a nation of diverse and disparate groups, beliefs, and purposes. In my overly simplistic Hoosierness, I tend to say that in this country, we are free to be as stupid as we want to be. We are free to be as wrong as we want to be. We are free to be as offensive or as odd, or misunderstood, or misunderstanding, or fanatical or faithless or inclusive or exclusive or anything else – as we want to be. And we must be so. And we must remain so. This is why we came here in the first place.

So what to do now?

We are actually back at the beginning.

Any one of us will look around, seeking an association we prefer. Some of us see a group we like, and agree with everything, or perhaps most everything they subscribe to. We will see others we do not understand or do not appreciate, perhaps even do not like. We wisely look somewhere else. But we can also choose to force our way in and demand change.

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In all you do, as you seek your own freedom, remember to permit the same to others, lest we all lose it.

– – –

It is my personal suspicion that the Boy Scouts of America caved to enormous pressure. Shame – and caution – if the BSA changed for impure motives.

I suspect theirs was not a purely internal reconsideration of their corporate moral straightness. It is my suspicion that the BSA was unduly pressured – a pressure that went beyond appropriate efforts to persuade and influence. It is my suspicion that persons and groups from both within and without sought – as they have openly for many years – to take away Scouting’s freedom to determine their own way, rather than create their own associations of like-mindedness.

They believed it was right and necessary – and possible – to take away a freedom because they disagreed with the result of that freedom – a freedom precious in this land. Perhaps even they will find the same threat at their doorstep someday, and they will understand –maybe too late – that this is not morally straight.

So what to do now?

Choose your associations freely – if you can – and allow others the same, based on your beliefs, desires, interests, hopes and plans for your future. Do not dismantle and destroy. Create. If along the way you do not find those that agree and believe with you, then make your own way, and invite others with whom you agree. Then maintain that belief, because it is vital to your freedom.

Then finally, as you go forward, let the Scout Law be your guide in your interactions with others. Remain focused on your own thoughts and your own attitude and your own treatment of others.

– – –

Michael Conner is a former professional Scouter, having served as a District Executive with the now defunct Wabash Valley Council once headquartered in west-central Indiana, now part of the Crossroads of America Council based in Indianapolis; and as a Senior District Executive with the Lincoln Trails Council in central Illinois.

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