I have been asked about my experiences as a Boy Scout a number of times in my life. The conversation often kicked off when I've run into another Eagle Scout, or a Gold Award Scout, or even just someone who spent a lot of their formative years in scouting. Usually, it began with a realization and then an "Oh! You too!" moment. In college, the Army, or in my corporate life, it was always like this: "Oh! You too!" and a knowing smile and a handshake. Still smiling, I'd think to myself: of course they were a scout.
What do I mean by that? It's hard to put my finger on it, but let me try.
When I think back to scouting, I'm filled with warm feelings of shared experience, whether solving problems to earn beads at camp with the Cub Scouts (Pack 496) or sitting down with someone in the Boy Scouts (Troop 496) to learn the basics of wood carving. Or even getting up before light to get ready to swim a mile in a cold cold lake. That lake was cold! but that memory is warm. What an experience.
That lake experience brings to mind the out-of-doors element of scouting. Boy Scouts really helped cement a great love of the out-of-doors for me (hiking, hunting, camping, fishing, even just ruminating). It grounded me in the reality of humans as just another occupant of this planet. Would I be running a farm today without scouting in my background? Maybe. Maybe not. But I probably would never have taken my wife-to-be on a first camping trip together where she uttered those particularly memorable words, "Um . . . Where's the tent?" (Bah! Who needed a tent when the weather was so lovely?) Scouting-done-right breeds environmental champions, and as we all know, our urbanized world population is sorely lacking out-of-doors fluency. We need more of those voices.
Camaraderie in scouting was an important factor—arguably the most important factor. We kids grew up with each other in the scouting experience. Throughout those years, we met like-minded kids from all over the US and even from all over the world—kids who shared a common language of sorts: knots, songs, hiking, building things, tents, fishing poles, . . . Want to solve all of the world's clash-of-culture problems? Maybe invite all of our oldest Eagle and Gold Award Scouts the world over to a conference and have them hash it out. One pair each from every country. There are worse ideas.
Sure, scouting was fun, but it was also challenging. And I think this was where scouting for me really shined. Scouting effectively combines fun with milestones and objectives, both as an individual and as a team. This path of achievement is augmented by an emphasis on continuity, continuity from age 10 to 18. And for some, a path that continues for many years beyond.
As a scout, I slowly pushed forward to the next rank, a rank that was a reward for accomplishing a certain set of tasks and goals. Kids (and adults, for that matter) struggle with confidence (I know I did) and often just need someone or a group of someones to both guide them but also push them a little—sometimes more than a little. Throughout scouting, we were surrounded by caring leaders and older scouts who guided and gently pushed us forward. But you were also surrounded by your peers who served to encourage and celebrate your achievements and shared experiences. We all grew together.
All scouts eventually enter the real world, if you can call it that. It is a world where the training wheels are taken off, but where, I think, scouts have an advantage. Their confidence is bolstered by past experience. Perhaps most importantly, they enter this world with an enhanced can-do attitude that their peers often lack. Additionally, scouts enter the adult world with years of leadership training under their belts, allowing them to serve early in their adult careers as leaders, mentors, and guides.
Today, we need more of these leaders, mentors, and guides. Or just folks up to a challenge. I certainly felt like I began my adulthood in a far better place than I would have without scouting.
At a base level, I always come back to camaraderie and understanding when I think about scouting. All those times I've run into another scout—that moment of recognition in the middle of some conference room or community meeting where we smile, firmly shake hands, and greet each other with, "Oh! You too!"
That's scouting to me.
—Todd Warner, Eagle Scout (1987), October, 2021