August 14, 2012

What I Learned From My Time in the Boy Scouts

Boy ScoutsI was in the Boy Scouts for a couple years. It was my dad's idea, and while I was initially willing to give it a try, it did not take long for me to learn that it was not for me. Unfortunately, my dad "did not raise a quitter," and so I was not permitted to leave until a couple years later. I was 13 or 14 when I was allowed to quit, and I've never had any regrets about doing so.

By the time I left, being associated with the Boy Scouts was about the least cool thing a 13 or 14 year-old boy could do. I tried as hard as I could to keep it a secret from my peers in school, but this proved impossible.

One of the things I learned from my time in the Scouts was that I was not very good at many of the skills White men in the U.S. are supposed to posses. I was never going to be an outdoorsman. I didn't like bugs, the idea of harming innocent animals, or camping in the rain. I was not particularly good with my hands and while I did learn to tie a few knots, whittle, fish, and operate a canoe, I had already learned these things from my dad before joining the Scouts. All the Scouts really did was show me that I was never going to be very good at these things. It would be fair to say that my time in the Scouts left me absolutely certain that I was not cut out for military service. I suppose that was a valuable lesson.

Another lesson I picked up from the Scouts was that boys who were different from the majority in some way are meant to be bullied. I experienced this myself as both a victim and a passive observer who did not intervene but should have. I'd certainly seen bullying before but not in such a systematic top-down manner. I had not seen it condoned by adults before. And I do not recall previously experiencing anything like the pressure to join in I remember from the Scouts. Years later, I would look back on this experience when learning about the dangers of conformity.

When I see today that the Scouts are continuing to be intolerant of gays and atheists, it does not surprise me one bit. Atheism did not seem to be on anyone's radar all those years ago when I was in the Scouts, but I heard more homophobic slurs there than anywhere else I can recall (including high school football). Unless things have improved considerably, it is difficult for me to imagine many gay or atheist boys having a positive experience there. But until the organization changes its antiquated policies, I suppose we won't really know.

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