All in the family

Lessons my brother and I learned in scouting

The author’s brother, Steven, in his Eagle Scout uniform.

The author’s brother, Steven, in his Eagle Scout uniform.

photo by ashley hennefer

The Boy Scouts of America celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2010, and in 2012 the Girl Scouts of America will celebrate 100 years, too. I was fortunate to attend the Boy Scout Jamboree in California last April with my brother, Steven, who recently earned his Eagle Scout rank. And as a former Girl Scout, I plan to celebrate similarly next year with the GS’s “Year of the Girl.”

Scouting is a big deal in my family. Steven and I each started when we were in first grade. I made it to my Silver ranking in Girl Scouts, and we moved to Nevada before I could finish, but I spent my teen years as a mentor for my brother’s troop. It’s no surprise that Steven and I have grown up with a love for learning and a passion for the environment. But besides all of the badges, patches and ranks we earned, scouting gave us some invaluable lessons on life.

People change

Because scouting starts at such a young age, members of a troop will interact closely with one another from when they are 5 or 6 years old until they are 17 or 18. Friendship is a foundational value of scouts, but what the books and badges don’t tell you is that friendships may not always flourish after years of camping trips or pinewood derby races. As the ranks get more competitive, the true personalities begin to emerge. What worked so well with a group of 8-year-old boys may be a drama-filled disaster when the same boys are 13. The troop dynamic functions like a microcosm of a family, including the nuances of individual personalities. Like living in a household with a sibling, exposure to this at a young age makes it easier to adapt to group setting for future careers or commitments. Conflict resolution becomes second nature, and learning how to respect one another—and be respected in return—becomes an important part of the transition to adulthood.

Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo

Scouting gets a bad rap for promoting outdated ideas on sex, gender and religion—and that reputation isn’t always unfounded—but it doesn’t have to limit those who want to be involved. Things have changed much in the 100 years of scouting. Many troops around the country have accepted openly homosexual or transsexual children, and secular troops are increasingly common, especially in urban areas. But this doesn’t mean that all troops are on the same wavelength. One of my brother’s best troop leaders was an atheist. Until recently, atheism was not widely accepted in scouting, which was founded on Christian ideals. In a small town, an atheist leading Boy Scouts created a lot of opposition. After extensive debate between the families, the troop leader stayed on board, and the troop has had relatively few problems with conflicting religious beliefs ever since. For my brother, this served as an example of how diversity extends far past physical appearances, and how even those with opposing ideas can find a compromise with civil conversation.

Find your niche

One of the best reasons to join scouts is the exposure to so many different subjects, hobbies and activities. In order to move onto higher rankings, scouts must complete a multitude of projects to receive badges. Girl Scouts of America recently implemented several new badge options, including public policy, robotics, graphic design and financial literacy. When Steven attended Boy Scout camp several years ago, he completed a photography badge and discovered a love for digital art. And I definitely didn’t know how much I would enjoy archery or building computers until I was able to experiment.

Scouting is what you make it, and I appreciate its balance between preserving the past and encouraging innovation and progress. For my brother and me, scouting gave us the chance to explore the world and how it works—and we found out a lot about ourselves along the way.