A teaching moment

scout_sign_250“This is America. Go back to Mexico!”

“Build That Wall!”

These words are all too familiar today. You might expect to hear them at a rally for the current Republican presidential candidate. The outrageousness is reported by the news media for all to see and hear.

But, in this case, it wasn’t at a Donald Trump rally where the words were shouted.

It was at a Scout camporee.

Seriously.

A few weeks ago, we had a council-wide Rendezvous, a camporee that drew hundreds of Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops and thousands of Scouts. Among the troops camping that weekend and enjoying the activities was one from southwest Detroit, an impoverished but proud sector of the city, populated mainly by families of Hispanic origin. Two of my commissioner friends from the suburbs, husband and wife, took the initiative to organize boys and their families, find a chartered organization, collect donations of gear and get this troop of Hispanic youth off the ground. They’ve been growing for the past couple years, having fun and benefiting from the character and leadership lessons that come with Scouting.

For the first time, they were able to experience a large-scale camporee and intermingle with several thousand of their fellow Scouts.

But their enthusiasm was dashed by boys from a nearby troop, who shouted the hateful slurs at them.

“This is the Boy Scouts of AMERICA. Go back to Mexico!”

The Hispanic Scouts felt dejected. Unwanted. Hated.

My commissioner friend was camping with them and heard this.  She told the troop’s Scoutmaster what had happened.

They could have confronted the Scouts, but they took the high road and went to visit the Scoutmaster of the troop that had cast the insults. Their Scoutmaster had a chat with the senior patrol leader. “What should we do about this?” he asked the SPL. “Hopefully, this was only a misunderstanding,” he replied. The Scoutmaster observed “it sounds like their brains weren’t thinking when their mouths were engaged.”

Under normal circumstances, one would have to wonder why otherwise fine young men of good character would think of telling Hispanic youth to “go back to Mexico” and advocate building a wall to keep them out. But these are not normal times. Our culture is being influenced by forces we have never seen before, and it’s forces of hatred, xenophobia and insults against women, Asians, Hispanics, and the poor that are flowing freely in our media and changing the discourse from civil to ugly.

The Scoutmaster, senior patrol leader and Scouts of the troop that said those hateful things went and visited the Hispanic troop. They apologized to the Scouts. They extended the left hand of Scout friendship. They learned that, in the Scout sign with three fingers raised, the thumb and little finger form a loop that represents the bond between all Scouts. They realized that they were, indeed, brothers to every other Scout and that our brotherhood is worldwide.

Later that afternoon, the two troops met for a friendly game of soccer and later enjoyed a chili dinner together.

“It was a learning experience, and a teaching moment,” said the Scoutmaster, and an illustration of how love trumps hate.

It’s also a caution that young people pick up on what they hear adults say and do. They take cues from their environment. They lack the perspective of knowing the impact of their actions.

As Scouters – but moreso, as adults, parents and citizens – we must be aware of this effect we have on young people. We must set a good example, or our children will cue into what’s being said in their environment. We must provide a moral anchor against which they can judge what they’re experiencing. We may be dealing with boys – our job is to help them become men.


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