I’ll never forget the summer of 2014, my first summer at Camp Hi-Sierra. My original intention in working at Boy Scout camp was to have an adventuresome summer, hiking in the mountains and swimming in rivers and lakes, seeing spectacular stars at night. All this happened, and more. It was probably the best summer of my life.
We got to wear dorky uniforms (sorry Boy Scouts. You’re all big dorks in the most wonderful way!), we sang and danced and made fools of ourselves in order to entertain hundreds of boys every week. We also taught really cool merit badges, took scouts on overnight trips, and slept almost never.
It wasn’t all fun and games, though. The food, intended to stuff twelve-year-olds full of sugar and carbs so they have energy to do cool stuff, absolutely failed to provide long term nutrition to adults living off of it for 8 week stints. The work day was often more than thirteen hours long, and sometimes you just want to smack an annoying little scout or overbearing, awful, ego-tripping Scoutmaster. In the meantime though, I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had, (some of those even scoutmasters!) and it made me come back for more.
I’m the redhead whose right leg apparently bends in weird directions.
I also met the man I’d later marry (which hasn’t happened yet. It’s totally normal to be engaged for more than two years, right?). It was this picture, in fact, that made me realize I was in love with him. This was taken less than a week after we met. (I’m in the middle, he’s the guy I’m staring at.)
One of the best things that happened to me while working at Scout camp was witnessing the admiration and reverence with which Boy Scouts treat the Scout Oath and Law. One of the first things every new scout must do is memorize them and explain, in their own words, what they mean. Even adults spend hours discussing them and how they apply in their lives.
The kids totally buy into it, too! Whenever a scout does something they shouldn’t do, 90% of the time, if you just say, “Hey, Scout. Remember, a scout is trustworthy / friendly / helpful / whichever point of the Scout Law applies in this situation,” the kid, will say, “Oh, right,” and then just start doing something else. It was like magic. If all my students could buy into a code of behavior like these scouts did their scout law, teaching would be a breeze!
I have adopted the Scout Law as my own code of ethics, and though I fail to achieve it more often than I succeed, I believe it helps me to be a better person.
This is all well and good except for one, nagging concern lurking right in the middle: obedient. Obviously, this code was written by adults for children to follow. I never remind scouts of this point in terms of immediate behavior correction because I, myself, don’t buy into it very much.
One of the wisest people I’ve ever met is our official camp doctor, who told me that while he was working on his Eagle Scout ranking, the Nuremberg Trials were happening. During this time, Nazis who committed heinous acts were on trial, many set free because they were just obeying orders. (Imperious curse, Harry Potter nerds?) While I cast no judgment on people terrified of crossing the dangerous overgrown toddler that Hitler was, I still think we need to learn lessons from history. Along with obedience, we need to be teaching kids Civil Disobedience. Where would we be if Martin Luther King, Jr. simply obeyed all the rules? What about Rosa Parks and the Freedom Riders?
I still buy into the Scout Law; I still proudly affiliate with the Boy Scouts, that flawed organization taking baby steps towards equality. I still think obedience is good, overall, and necessary in many situations. I just define it differently. Obedience to my conscience trumps obedience to laws made by other people. We cannot follow orders blindly.
I really hope that I get to spend another amazing summer at Camp Hi-Sierra. If I can’t, though, I’ll carry the Scout Law with me wherever I go.