Today marks the 30th anniversary of my Eagle Scout award, and I may never forget the date again.
For years, I had to wrack my brain for landmarks in time that would point me even to the year (1993). Month and day? Forget it.
But a chance encounter with my long-lost National Eagle Scout Association membership card a few months ago brought the shocking realization that it had already been over a quarter of a century. A college education, over 20 years of marriage, two kids, and my son’s cub scout/boy scout journey make it feel like a whole lifetime ago. That kind of time brings perspective, genuine clarity and, dare I say, some wisdom to boot.
As I wrote for last Sunday’s Outdoors column in the Mankato Free Press, I could not see as a boy how BSA was at work in my life. Everything was fun. Most times, it was some kind of adventure. I learned lots. And in an opaque way, I understood my ideas about leadership were developing. I always knew it was a valuable experience, and that attaining the rank of Eagle was a true accomplishment.
It wasn’t until my own son was in boy scouts that I saw it all with a new degree of lucidity. While navigating the online modules to become a “registered adult,” it was explained to me that the scouting program is about civic training, character development, and leadership, and uses the outdoors as the medium for achieving those goals. That was a revelation.
Seeing the outdoor elements fade into the background, then, was a little disconcerting at first. But I’ve become more comfortable with that.
Don’t get me wrong; I believe BSA’s programs are incredible tools for introducing youth to the outdoors. Stewardship of natural resources and outdoor participation are still pillars in the programming, and that continues to develop over time. I’m eager and proud to offer my experience to pay it forward as a merit badge counselor for Environmental Science, Fishing, and Nature merit badges (among others).
Now, it strikes me that this is an important time in American life to pick our leaders carefully. I don’t believe we have many people running for office anymore who are truly public servants. That troubles me. And maybe it’s because there was a televised debate last night, but I’m afraid America is losing its ability to discern who is a leader and who is not.
In my opinion, leaders don’t shout, bluster, or make orders and demands; they do. And they usually show us they are qualified to lead because they can show they already have done. Leaders inspire those around them, not create confusion or mistrust or fear. Understanding their motives (selfish or selfless) is usually as simple as looking at their track records, if not bank records. But I digress.
Or do I?
In recent years we have seen brazen attempts to roll back generations of good work we’ve done as a nation for unclear or even nefarious purposes. Someone is always threatening to do away the Endangered Species Act, for instance. They argue it is a blunt tool that ultimately doesn’t do much good. Maybe it’s blunt, but it’s also a safety net for both individual species and their ecosystems. Disposing of that safety net only hastens our own demise.
Last year, many members of congress tried to somehow claw back the 1937 Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (Pittman-Robertson). It was soundly denounced by conservation groups, non-profits, and government agencies, and ultimately went nowhere. What troubles me is that more than a few politicians tried to appeal to a rather selfish fraction of the public who would abruptly end a wildly successful program for no other reason than to keep a few bucks in their pockets. And I do mean few.
Whose idea of leadership is that? And where do they think that would lead us? Nowhere good.
But despair not; there is hope.
After a trek with my son and members of his troop at Philmont Scout Ranch this month, I can say the ideals of scouting are very much alive and well. I saw them in 14- and 15-year olds hammering out their own identities and leadership styles. I also saw those ideals in the young adults employed by Philmont who showed remarkable competence and passion for the outdoors. And it was truly inspiring to see the diversity of age, race, religion, gender, and origin represented in this modern iteration of an organization that dates to 1910.
Be assured tomorrow’s leaders and public servants are still being made. I only hope they’re being made fast enough.
I’m proud to be an Eagle Scout. That accomplishment can never be taken away, nor will I ever be less than it made me. But today I’m not so much proud of my accomplishment as I am to be part of a movement that can transform both individuals and nations.
Here’s to the next thirty.
On my honor,