Creating a Meaningful Life through Scouting
Here’s something that anybody who’s attended college can tell you: of the long list of questions that you are challenged to answer as you work towards your degree, the question of the meaning of life is the hardest. After you are approached by this ultimate question, you sit there, you think about what you know (or what you think you might know), and you try to come up with some sort of answer. You think hard. Real hard. They must have told you the answer at some point within your first twelve years of schooling, right? So you try and you try, but throughout the next four, five, six, whatever number of years you are in school you will fail to find an answer. And it’s not like this question goes away, either! The question of the meaning of life will come back to you throughout the rest of your life. It is the question that answers everything, and it is a question that should never have been asked.
What is the meaning of life? Are you serious? Nobody has that answer, but we do have a few things we can know for certain. For me, this certainty comes from the message of the Scouting Movement. While this message does not tell us what the meaning of life is, it does give us a way to live our lives so that they are meaningful. Scouting not only explains that meaningfulness can be found through self-improvement, but that meaningfulness resides in devoting yourself to a life of selfless, cheerful service towards others and the world. I argue that instead of trying to answer the question, “What is the meaning of life,” we should ask ourselves, “How can I make my life meaningful?” If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that my life would not be what it is today without the Scouting Movement.
The origins of scouting can be traced back to the United Kingdom where, in 1907, Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell sought to create a movement focused on building youth and community through “woodcraft.” In the preface to his work Scouting for Boys, Baden-Powell describes the purpose of the Scouting Movement as “filling up certain chinks unavoidable in the ordinary school curriculum.” In this sense, Scouting teaches youth character, fitness, and handicraft in a setting outside of their regular schooling in order to make them better individuals who may, in turn, better serve their community. While Scouting has incredibly humble origins, it has expanded and changed over the last century to create the organization that exists today. The messages, however, have stayed the same.
I joined Scouting when I was in first grade. At that point in my life, I had no idea what this movement was all about. In fact, it wasn’t until after I graduated high school that I began to really understand what Scouting meant. In those early years, I was drilled on the memorization of the Slogan, the Motto, the Oath, the Law, and the Outdoor Code. These were things that we would recite at least once every meeting. They seemed like words that I was simply regurgitating, and I had no idea how much importance they really had. Over the last two years of my adult life, however, I have learned the importance of the values that Scouting teaches. In fact, it wasn’t until I was challenged with that ultimate question of the universe that I realized what Scouting was trying to tell me.
An old motto of mine is that the meaning of life is a life of meaning. This statement seemed to satisfy me until I realized its one, serious flaw: it doesn’t explain what a life of meaning actually is. That’s where the message of Scouting comes in. First, come the Motto and the Slogan. They are, respectively, “Be Prepared” and “Do a Good Turn Daily.” Simple as they may seem, they have a much larger meaning than simply being ready for the day ahead of you or helping an old lady across the street. To be prepared means to be ready for anything. This comes with accepting that there is both good and bad in life, and being able to deal with both in a positive way. In life, as some of you may have already discovered, a lot of things will not go your way. Your alarm won’t go off for eight a.m. class or work, you’ll forget about that important meeting you were supposed to go to, or your computer will self-destruct and you’ll lose an important paper, presentation, or memo (or three). These things will happen. Being both mentally and physically ready for them is what it means to “Be Prepared.”
Being prepared isn’t everything, though. The slogan tells us to “Do a Good Turn Daily.” On a base level, this means to do something good for someone else every day. This creates a meaningful life because it gives you a mission to do every day. This mission could vary from picking something up that a fellow human dropped on the ground, to donating a million dollars to the Make a Wish Foundation. Whatever your good turn may be, making a conscious effort to do something good will motivate you each and every day, including the bad ones. On those days that you may feel overwhelmed by everything you have to do, just think of one objective: doing your good turn. In both being prepared and making an effort to do something good for someone else every day, your day to day life will be filled with both purpose and foresight. While this may not be the meaning of life, it will definitely give each day a bit of meaning.
Beyond the motto and the slogan, Scouting puts forth an Oath. This Oath demands responsibility to one’s self and one’s community. It tells us to be “physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” It firstly tells us to take care of our bodies. No matter your level of physicality, you can always make a conscious effort to better your health. The body you are in is the body that you will be in for your entire life, so take care of it! The second part tells us to be “mentally awake.” I have found that I succeed the most in my day when I wake up at least one hour before I have to be anywhere, and I eat a sufficient breakfast. The days that I perform the worst are the days that I get little sleep, wake up late, and have to rush to get ready for the day (usually resulting in me having to scarf down a Pop Tart). The third part is slightly different. It tells us to be “morally straight.” While this has different interpretations by some, I interpret this part to mean that one should have a solidified code of ethics. Whether it be believing in socialism, true democracy, or anarchy, believing in something is what is important. Believing in nothing will leave you with far too many questions, which will ultimately distract from your day to day activities. Following these points will help you achieve that same meaningful day that the motto and the slogan showed us earlier.
Next, comes the Scout Law. The Law has twelve points, which are as follows: A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. While this may seem like a lot, all of them point towards one major theme: being true to one’s self and one’s community. Like the Oath, it tells us to be “loyal” to ourselves through physical, mental, and moral readiness. Overall, it stresses that we should an incredible amount of responsibility upon ourselves and what we do. It shows forth that, not only do other people rely on us, but we rely on ourselves to do the right thing. Acting out the twelve points of the Scout Law in your day to day life will help you check up on yourself. Doing this will not only help you succeed in what you do, but it will help you find a greater sense of purpose in your daily activities.
If you were to walk down the self-help isle at Barns and Noble, you would find a seemingly infinite number of books that discuss how to fill your daily life with purpose and intent. I argue, however, that the most helpful tool in finding the answers does not come from a book, but rather, from the world around us. At this point, it is only fitting to introduce the Outdoor Code. This part of Scouting I find to be the most helpful in coming closer to a greater sense of what the meaning of life entails. The Outdoor Code goes beyond being responsible for yourself or your fellow person: it tells us that we are responsible for the stewardship of the earth. This stewardship includes an acute awareness of the fragility of the world in which we live in. Thus, I urge you: do something in the outdoors. Leap into the world beyond the boundaries of your Wi-Fi walls. Participate in a conservation project at the local nature center, clean up a highway, tend to a garden, or even care for a plant at your windowsill. Doing such things will take your daily meaning beyond self-improvement and community building to that of worldly stewardship.
Making it a part of your daily life to care for something natural will allow you to realize that life has more meaning than being responsible for yourself or being responsible for the development of your community. It teaches that we have a greater purpose: to care for the world in which we live in. All of this, I have learned through Scouting. So, what is the meaning of life? Well, it’s not that simple. I don’t have the answer, but I do know a few things for sure. Each of us has a responsibility to ourselves, each of us has a responsibility to our community, and each of us has a responsibility to this planet. This, I know for certain.