As an organizational development consultant I have facilitated many executive retreats where the leadership team of the organization spent hours formulating the mission statement for their company. They painstakingly wordsmithed their document to ensure it expressed the exact meaning they wished to convey. This is why I struggle with the phrase in the Scout Oath “to obey the Scout Law.”
Why is it called the Scout Law? I would classify the twelve qualities outlined in the Scout Law as values, principles, or behaviors, rather than laws. Laws typically are viewed as restrictive in nature, and are usually couched in terms of “thou shalt nots” or other limiting factors. Laws have enforcement parameters and penalties if violated. Whereas the twelve points of the Scout Law outline twelve admirable qualities that a young man should willingly adopt into his character. And since these are qualities I would hope a boy would want to emulate, I cringe at the command to obey the Scout Law.
I believe the greatest benefit of the Scouting program is the character development that results when youth are continually instructed and reminded to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. These twelve values should be reinforced during every Scouting activity and outing. In many of my earlier blog messages I have repeatedly emphasized that the Lord wants Aaronic Priesthood young men, missionaries, husbands, fathers, and Melchizedek Priesthood leaders who model these values. In my opinion, LDS Scouting units should emphasize the Scout Law as a core part of their Scouting program, for it teaches young men what manner of men they ought to be.
Adult Aaronic Priesthood and Scouting leaders should help every young man understand why modeling the Scout Law is important. We want him to realize the Scout Law is a code of conduct that should be followed not just during Scouting activities, but throughout his life. He should be taught that character development occurs when he applies the principles of the Scout Law by adjusting his behaviors to conform to the values that define him. The Scout Law is a code of ethics—or moral code—that governs how a young man will live at all times and in all places.
Character is a fundamental of leadership. One’s character defines what type of leader he is. The twelve values of the Scout Law are the virtues a young man should emulate as a leader. By instilling within our young men the behavioral qualities of the Scout Law we can help them to become leaders at home, in school, at Church, on missions, in the workplace, and in society.
The Scout Law is the moral code that sets Scouting apart from all other programs or activities. Many parents—including LDS parents—wrongly believe their son can acquire the same character development by participating in sports. Sports do not instill the same values as Scouting—those found in the Scout Law. These virtues were not taught to me by the sports coaches in my life. Nor were they constantly reinforced or practiced by a variety of weekly activities and outings. And what happens when a young man’s interests change and he drops out of sports? The thing that makes Scouting different from any other activity is that, when implemented properly, Scouting has enough variety to appeal to a young man through all stages of his youth.
I encourage you as Aaronic Priesthood and Scouting leaders to place proper emphasis on the Scout Law in your Scouting programs. Help your young men realize that when they raise their right arms in the Scout sign and repeat the Scout Oath they are signifying that they will “obey with exactness” (Alma 57:21) the Scout Law. They are making a commitment—or covenant—to take upon themselves the behaviors and qualities that will set them apart as young men of God. Imagine how blessed the world would be if every LDS young man willingly obeyed and modeled the Scout Law.
Take a Moment to Reflect
- Do you regularly teach and reinforce the virtues and values of the Scout Law?
- Do you help your young men understand that the Scout Law is a moral code they should live by for their entire lives?
- Do you use the Scout Law as the behavioral norms for your Scouting unit?
- Do you model the principles and qualities of the Scout Law?
Turn Your Reflection Into Action
- What will you start doing, stop doing, or do better as a result of your reflection?
“Each principle of the Scout Law is a sermon and demands action if we would live and practice the oath we take: a Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. A Scout who takes the Scout Oath weekly should remember it is something he is committing his soul to” (Vaugh J. Featherstone, “On My Honor,” Ensign, February 2006).
-Mac McIntire is a dedicated Scouter who has blessed many lives through his service and acute understanding of the Scouting program. He currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.