Last week, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote an op-ed piece titled It’s Not About You as a rebuttal to the countless college commencement addresses that implore our newly-minted Bachelors of Whatever to go and blaze a trail in the world, motivated by their own inner dreams and passions. Go ahead and read the column now, if you wish, and then come back here (the link will open in a new window or tab). As you read, think about your role in Scouting and how what we do could apply.
Mr. Brooks makes a great observation that today’s youth “have been monitored, tutored, coached and honed to an unprecedented degree.” Even though the economy has caused job loss, there are still plenty of two-worker families, but the non-work times are increasingly spent coddling, coaching and helicopter-parenting. Because we hate to see our children fail, parents provide everything, and then some, to see them succeed, whether it’s in school, music, sports, or even Scouting. We’re afraid of being viewed as bad parents if we allow our kids to stumble.
But what does this do for our children? It turns them into inner-directed individuals who will come to expect that anything they need will be provided for them at the drop of a hat, when they ask for it – or even if they don’t. They become incapable of dealing with the demands of the real world as a result.
The good news is that Scouting is the antidote for this phenomenon – but only if we let it be. Adults in Boy Scouting are so often tempted to circumvent youth leadership to get things done more efficiently, to plan and organize program activities, to run meeting and campouts, and most critically, to keep the boys from failing. We need to always remember that the adult role is to mentor and teach boy leaders and provide for their safety, and not to do everything for them so they can enjoy the activities we’ve (ahem) planned. Through Scouting, a boy can try, fail, and try again (and as Tom Peters would say, fail again and fail better), in a “safe sandbox” where real life skills are learned. Scouting also teaches youth to be of service to others and instills the habit of doing a good turn, so that our boys will know to go on to serve the greater good and society beyond self.
Through the values learned in Scouting, our young men will enter the world of work better prepared to function and to lead others in an environment where, for so many others, their trail has been lit for them, their pack lightened, and their compass fixed.
Mr. Brooks ends his piece with the advice to “lose yourself,” intended to be a contrast to typical commencement address advice to go forth and “find” yourself. That’s good advice for adults, too. Lose your tendency to jump in and fix things, to plan their course, to help them along. Don’t do it for them! Let them learn by doing. Put on your Scouting hat and let the program of youth leadership work as it was intended to do.
How will you create a better environment in your troop to prepare our youth for the challenges of the real world?