Ethics. It’s a big word. It can be a loaded word in some ways.

Ethics is typically defined as the fundamental principles of decent human conduct. Merriam-Webster defines it as the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation. In business, it can be taken to encompass the study of universal values such as respect and equality for men and women, fairness in dealings with others and concern for health, safety and the environment.

Does this sound familiar in a Scouting context? It certainly should.

Ethics is at the heart of the values we instill in our young people. It touches every aspect of our program. Look at the twelve points of the Scout Law and you’ll find that ethics – doing what’s right – is part of every one of them. And many of them require us to do what’s right, even when faced with the temptation to do otherwise, or when we aren’t being watched.

Last week I attended a conference for Amateur Radio operators who enjoy the activity of Radio Sport – participating in over-the-air contests in which the object is to make contact with as many other radio operators as possible in a given period of time and under the rules and conditions defined by the contest sponsor.  One of the biggest concerns in the Radio Sport community is cheating. Since everyone keeps their own record of contacts made, we’re basically on our honor to be truthful – yet there are always a few who cheat by submitting claims of contacts not actually made, transmitting with power above their legal maximum, or using assistance devices and systems that aren’t permitted. One of our discussion sessions dealt with the ethics of radio contesting. The speaker defined ethics rather well as knowing what is right and wrong, and choosing to do what’s right. One is free to choose what to do when no one’s looking, to take rules that are in black and white and make them gray.

A 2005 study by Harris Interactive examined ethics in Scouting. The results of the study were impressive. Seventy-five percent of adults who had been Scouts as a youth said that their Scouting experience taught them to always be honest, with the figure rising to ninety-six percent among those whose Scouting involvement spanned five years or more. Scouts were above average in traits such as being helpful to others, treating others with respect, being a good team member, playing by the rules, respecting the environment and giving their best effort.

As Scouters, we provide the framework for our Scouts to learn ethical behavior. We do that by conducting and guiding activities that reinforce doing the right thing. The patrol method teaches boys to work together, to share duties and responsibilities, and shows how one’s own actions impact others. We also help them learn by living and practicing ethical behavior ourselves. If they see us skirting the rules – taking black and white and turning it gray – we teach them that it’s okay to cheat or to push the envelope. We also cheat when we don’t follow Scouting’s own methods, like when adults do the things that Scouts are supposed to do, or when we approve requirements that weren’t actually met.

Ethics is an important part of life but in many ways it’s on thin ice in our society today. To illustrate the meaning of ‘ethics’ and its impact when one’s ethics lapse, The Business Dictionary wrote: The CEO had begun to lose sight of his ethics: he no longer cared who he hurt in order to build his riches.

What happens after a Scout grows up is beyond our control, but we can help improve his likelihood of staying on course by instilling ethical behavior in our Scouts while we can.

Image: Stuart Miles /

This post first appeared on Bobwhite Blather.
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One Reply to “Ethics”

  1. Yeah– Ethics in scouting. That’d be good. Refreshing, even.
    Like scouts who claim camping days they never had to get that “Eagle Required” badge; the SM that won’t enforce “Totin Chit”, so scouts endure the scout on a campout who’s flashing his knife at them; or the children of the SM and ASM who, at troop meetings, ridicule and exclude another scout with an LD; or a SM and ASM who disagree with multiple committee members and other ASM’s and actively work to have them “leave” the organization rather than adjust behavior; or the ASM who has insulted, used profanity, threatened and shouted at multiple committee members, scouts and a District representative, so that multiple parents will not send their scout on activities where this ASM will attend; where, due to a disagreement, the SM and ASM literally turn their backs and “shun” the disagreeing troop members at a celebration of a scouts Eagle Project; where the SM and ASM publicly ridicule the OA, after having just participated in an Eagle Court of Honor for a scout in their troop, conducted by the OA script.
    The scouts in this troop are themselves mostly good kids– it’s the leadership that fails so egregiously. So– yes please– I’d love to see some ethics at work in scouting.

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