Sharpen your saw!

logs_200There’s an old story about two lumberjacks who each thought of themselves as the very best wood cutters in the world. One day they decided to have a log-cutting competition to determine, once and for all, who really was the most proficient at cutting logs. One of the lumberjacks worked feverishly throughout the contest, swinging his ax without rest to the point of exhaustion. The other lumberjack worked at a more leisurely pace. Even in the midst of the competition, he took several breaks while his competitor was chopping away. When the contest ended, much to everyone’s surprise, the second lumberjack had cut the most logs and was declared the winner. The first lumberjack was furious. He could not imagine how he had lost. He questioned his opponent, “How could you beat me? How could you have cut more logs that I did? You stopped to take breaks all the while I was cutting madly.” The second lumberjack replied, “Yes, indeed I took a few breaks while you were cutting. But what you failed to notice was that during my breaks, I was sharpening my saw.”

As Scouters, most of us realize that a sharp tool cuts better, whether it’s a woods tool like an ax or bowsaw to prepare tinder and kindling, a pocket knife when we need to cut a piece of rope or gut a fish, or a chef’s knife when we dice the vegetables for our stew. We also know the dangers that ensue from letting our tools lose their edge. A dull knife can slip and make a mess of our work, or worse, injure us in the process, and make our job more difficult.

We can say the same about our skills as Scouters. When we first joined the movement as adults, we (hopefully) got trained, attending our position-specific sessions and proudly wearing the Trained patch on our sleeve. But as we use our skills, the situations we encounter cause us to reinterpret what we learned in a new light. We may forget the significance of the theoretical learning at the time, without the perspective of experience to put things into context. We drift in uncertainty, not knowing how to deal with the problems that come our way, perhaps making up the answers as we go along. In the process, we can lose the vision of Scouting and do our Scouts an injustice. We may feel like the losing woodsman in our story – madly wielding his ax but not cutting very much wood.

How do we stay sharp? Do we need to repeat our training? That’s not a bad idea, actually, and one good way to do this is to help train other Scouters. Experienced adult leaders who are trained are some of the best trainers and end up making much better leaders in the process. Baden-Powell encouraged us to “learn from training and train from learning,” both as adult volunteers and as youth leaders. By serving on your council or district training team, you can make a difference by passing along your knowledge and sharpening your own saw in the process.

Here are some other good ways we can maintain our edge:

  • Take supplemental courses. There are many online courses we can take, and even more short courses that are instructor-led, but which you can self-study as well. Visit the portal and follow the E-Learning link (the same link where you take youth protection training) and see what’s available.
  • Attend your monthly district Roundtable regularly. There, you’ll find out news from your council about training, policy matters and Scouting events in your area. You’ll also get a chance to learn from other volunteers just like yourself.
  • Wood Badge is an excellent experience in leadership and self-discovery, but you will also learn a lot about Scouting in the process. Most Wood Badge veterans report that they feel more committed to the Scouting movement and the success of our youth after taking the course.

Don’t let the saw go dull! Keep a nice edge to it and you’ll find that cutting through the thickets we sometimes encounter in Scouting is easier and more productive.

Image courtesy of feelart /

This post first appeared on Bobwhite Blather.
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