It’s February 2021 – Scout Month. This is a wonderful time to celebrate 114 years of Scouting worldwide, and 111 years of Scouting in the Boy Scouts of America. With all the changes and challenges during these past few years, and especially during 2020, Scouting still remains constant in its mission to “…prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.”
This week and this month, all over the world Scouts will be having Blue and Gold Banquets (some still virtual), preparing for the pinewood derby, going on a Klondike Derby in the dead of winter – and loving it! They will be making snow caves, learning knot tying, working on merit badges, continuing on the Trail to Eagle, doing service projects and a million other Scouting activities that help a young man or young woman become “…physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight,” to know how to “help other people at all times,” “do a Good Turn daily,” and to learn to do their duty to God and Country. We have great reason to celebrate as we look to the future of Scouting in the BSA and worldwide. Thank you for your part in the success of Scouting.
So, if this is Scout Month, why the title to this Article “You Can Do It!”?? –For a very good reason.
Among all the things that Scouting teaches a boy or a girl, one of the most important is the concept that life is precious, worth living and that they can make it in this life. At a time when feelings of self-worth (especially for young men) are at their lowest and when suicide rates for youth are the highest on record, as reported in 2019 by the Los Angeles Times, our youth need to be reassured of their worth and value – to themselves, to their families and to society. And I can’t think of anything, especially when coupled with their personal faith and religious teaching, that can give a young man or young woman purpose more than learning to do a Good Turn daily, to learn to appreciate and care for the world around us, to learn to care for our bodies through proper diet and regular fitness, or to save a life through skills learned in the First Aid, Swimming or Lifesaving merit badges; or to help others, or to learn about trades, or simply learning to repair things. In a word, involvement in Scouting saves lives and preserves futures – literally!
In addition, a Scout learns leadership skills, how to communicate effectively with others, how to administer first aid in emergencies, how to participate in his or her government at the local, state, national or world level and how to make an impact by working for change and improvement in a peaceful way – using the means, processes and channels provided by our Founding Fathers. He learns to care for the flag and his country. He learns that, while change in government is often necessary, force and anarchy are never acceptable methods to compel those changes. A Scout learns to care for his or her body, manage time and money, survive in the wilderness, improve his or her family, identify and search for his ancestors, and many other life skills – in addition to those most associated with Scouting — being outdoors, camping, hiking, tying knots and cooking over a campfire. Many of these activities drive a Scout outdoors and away from technology, immobility and social media – all known factors in the rise of depression, discouragement and hopelessness among our teenagers. Thank you for your efforts to strengthen the youth of the Rising Generation through Scouting. Tom Brokaw once said, “In this country, it’s easy to make a buck; but it’s tough to make a difference.” You are making a difference.
Years ago, as I graduated from college and headed to law school, my Aunt Mary, the consummate teacher, gave me a little gavel not more than 4” long and a matching round sound block. As she gave me the small gift, she looked me in the eye and said, “Charles, as you go to law school, there will be days when you return home discouraged and think to yourself, ‘I just can’t do this!’ When you do, look at this little gavel and remember that your family has faith in you and knows that you can do this and do it well!” That impressed me so much that I took this small gift home, bought a small wooden platform, mod-podged a small old world map on the top and then glued my little gavel and sounding block on top of the platform and put it on a shelf in our living room. Sure enough, there were many days (or late nights or early mornings) when I thought to myself, “I just can’t do this! I’m working three jobs just to get through law school, have two small girls and a wife who is doing her best to raise them with me gone most of the time; and, in addition, am serving in a bishopric (and later on a high council)! I just can’t do it!” When I would think that, the words of Aunt Mary would come to my mind and I would look to the book shelf and this mini-gavel and sounding block and I would quietly say to myself, “Well, if Aunt Mary and Uncle Stan, Mother and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa and all my other aunts and uncles believe in me, perhaps I can do this.” It is amazing how many times that little gift and the verbal reassurance propelled me over hills of discouragement during those years. How grateful I am for Aunt Mary and her visionary gift.
While serving as Young Men General President, prior to a general conference session I was in the back of the lower seats of the Conference Center shaking hands with conference goers from across the world. One young man whom I gauged to be around 18 or 19 years old particularly caught my attention. I introduced myself and then asked his name and how old he was. When I learned that he was 19, I asked him if he had his mission call. His reply was short: “No, sir.” I then asked him if he was preparing to serve a mission. He responded again, “No, sir.” I then looked him in the eye and simply said, “Can I invite you to reconsider your decision. I think you would be a great missionary. In fact, if I were a mission president again, I would love to have you in our mission!” I then left him and proceeded to speak to others in that area of the Conference Center. Several months later, I received a letter from this young man. In that letter he said, “President, for a long time, I had doubted that I really had anything to give as a missionary. In our conversation that day just before the conference session, you looked me in the eye and told me that you believed that I would be a great missionary. After you said that, I started to think about and reconsider my decision not to serve a mission. Finally, I came to the conclusion that if you believed that I would be a good missionary, perhaps I did have something to give to the Lord. I have met with my bishop and my stake president and am now just waiting for my call to serve a fulltime mission. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.”
In the world of a teenager today, there are so many voices tearing him or her down, criticizing good works, tempting to following crooked paths. If we are to help our youth reach their potential, to believe in themselves and be prepared for the challenges of life, our voices of positive reassurance must be more numerous and more convincing than the derogatory, depressing and often degrading voices of the world.
When I received a Scouting award years ago, I became acquainted with Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, who was also a recipient of the award. A few weeks after the award ceremony, he sent me a copy of his book It’s Better to Build Boys Than Mend Men. In the introduction to that book, he states: “A good child nearby is about to make bad choices that will have lasting consequences and needs for you to step in right now. This book is for that child. [Actually for the adult who is getting ready to step in to help that child.] My hope is that by reading about the experiences of some children I have known, you will be inspired to reach out to a child near you – a child full of potential who needs the guiding hand of a wise adult.”
And in his book, A Generation of Excellence, Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone begins his chapter on “The Essential ‘Third Party’” with this comment: “Parents can’t do the entire job alone. They need help from concerned, perceptive leaders who will use their influence to help steer our youth on the right course.” Featherstone, Vaughn J., Book Craft, Inc., 1975, at 76. Elder Featherstone gives 10 suggestions for being an effective “Third Party Leader:” (1) Build in yourself a strong testimony of the gospel; (2) Be dedicated, persistent; (3) Take time to fill your calling; (4) Be reliable; (5) Enjoy your assignment; (6) Recognize and appreciate your young people; (7) Be a good ‘shadow leader’; (8) Follow through on your responsibilities; (9) Be ready to listen; and (10) Lead with love. Id. at 93-98.
As we commemorate this 111th anniversary of Scouting in the Boy Scouts of America, I invite you to consider each youth in your unit. Ask yourself, “How can I help Jim (or Jenny) reach his (or her) potential? Is he/she getting the necessary positive reinforcement from home – or do I need to turn up the volume in Scouts to ensure that he/she knows that he/she is valued; can do things; and can make a difference in the world around them? I also invite you during this year of 2021 to do all you can to help all the youth with whom you come in contact to “…be prepared “…to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law. That means all the youth you meet – those in your unit or outside your unit; those inside Scouting or outside Scouting; and those inside your family or in your neighborhood or ward or stake. We, as youth leaders, more than anyone else, must look for opportunities to build and strengthen the youth and let them know that we believe in them. At our cabin I have a mirror I purchased decades ago at Kings Dominion in Virginia. It simply said, below the image: “I believe in you.” So it is with our youth. When they look into our eyes, they must see and feel our trust and faith in them and their capabilities. And while it is true that we must raise our expectations for our youth and be able to communicate that to them, they must also know that we, and their Heavenly Father, believe in them and their abilities to meet those expectations. As Nephi said to his father, Lehi: “…for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” 1 Nephi 3:7 What a wonderful reassurance, both to Nephi and to Lehi, that they were not alone, and that there was a kind Father in Heaven who was there to assist and guide them. Our youth today must recognize and feel that same reassurance.
We, as parents, grandparents, and leaders, are often the hands and the voice that the Lord uses to reassure our youth of their worth, of the love we have for them, that they are children of a kind Heavenly Father who loves them; and that they can make a difference in life. May we do our best to help them rise up and become the men and women our Heavenly Father sent them here to become.