Even sixteen years later, I still can’t think about the time I spent in Boy Scouts without my stomach knotting up.
For six years I was asked1 to spend one night a week with people I wasn’t terribly fond of, usually playing basketball, or pretending to plan a camping trip, while internally I was planning a way to get out of said camping trip. I’m sure to those involved I appeared sullen and angry, which was accurate, but pretty much only in that setting. People who knew me then know that I was really a pretty happy guy, overall.
So why this hatred for the ol’ BSA2 ? Anyone else who grew up not only knowing the word “bibliophile” but actively applying it to themselves already knows the answer to that question: bullies.
Yes, this was a church sponsored troop. Yes, we had leaders who were supposed to keep that sort of thing from happening. But more than once it was the leaders themselves who were the bullies.
I don’t think anyone involved actually thought of themselves as a bully. I’m sure they thought they were including me in their reindeer games, and it’s my fault that I didn’t understand how those games work. But on my end, the word “scouting” meant getting teased, hit, tormented and basically just having life suck a little more. More than one leader asked me if I wasn’t being “just a little over-sensitive” and assured me that it was “all in good fun”.
My parents probably didn’t know what was really going on, because naturally I didn’t tell them. Like any kid in that situation, I instinctively knew that getting parents involved would just make it worse. People would promise to be nice, and as soon as they thought they could get away with it, they would make my life worse than ever. Indeed, that’s exactly what happened the one time I did actively take a stand and flat-out refuse to go on a particular camping trip. After three or four people sat around and talked at me for a couple of hours I relented and drove up to the campground with a leader who spent the entire drive complaining about how I had made him miss all the fun. Once we were the there and the leaders were all in their tent my life became a world of all the best in boy-on-boy attacks that could be carried out silently.
Out of desperation my parents informed me that I wouldn’t get a driver’s license until I was an Eagle Scout. This was a good lesson in ineffective threats. I had no particular desire to drive, so I simply let my mom drive me where ever I wanted to go until I went on my mission. Even when I turned seventeen and they relented I refused to go to driver’s education or apply for a license. They made the rule, and they would have to live with it. As I was leaving on my mission someone asked me if I felt that scouting had prepared me for missionary service. At the time I said “not really” but years later I realized that what I really wanted to say was that I was still active in my faith not because of scouting, but in spite of it.
Bleh. All this is long past now. I’m all growed up, with kids o’ my own and a good job and a house and a beautiful wife and I’m livin’ the American Dream like nobody’s business.
So, naturally, I’ve been called3 to serve as a scout leader. Which means its time to try to let go of a lot of things.
I knew this day was coming. I knew it was coming because my wife bought a Suburban, and if you’re LDS and own a Suburban it’s only a matter of time before you’re given a scouting calling. They’re lowering me in gently; I’m starting as a Webelos leader, working with cub scouts (i.e. ten-year-old boys) instead of teenagers. And the world of scouting has improved significantly. The BSA has made a number of changes to ensure that the boys who are going through scouting today won’t be put through the misery I went through. The “Youth Protection Program” that all scout leaders must complete before they can work with the boys focuses on recognizing the signs of bullying and stopping it quickly. The hard part, in other words, won’t be the actual participation, it’ll be letting go of the anger and stress that have nothing to do with the people I’ll be working with now.
So, here’s to letting go. It’s not about me any more, it’s about making sure that the experience these kids have is a safe and happy one, and I can assure you that they’ll have at least one leader that has both eyes open, and will put a swift end to any bullying.