The editor’s opinion from Marketplace, Northeast Wisconsin’s business magazine. (Obligatory disclaimer: Most hyperlinks go to outside sites, and we’re not responsible for their content. And like fresh watermelon, peaches, pineapple, grapefruit, tomatoes and sweet corn, hyperlinks can go bad after a while.)

July 21, 2008

Be(ing) Prepared

Like this column, this isn’t Friday either, but think of it as a Friday posting.

For the first part of this week, I won’t be in the office. I’ll be at the Boy Scouts of America Bay–Lakes Council’s Camp Rokilio, a Cub Scout camp, with my oldest son and the members of Cub Scout Pack 3735 of Ripon, away from cellphones, the Internet, email and my car.

This is the second consecutive year we’ve done this. Michael said last year he wanted to come back to Rokilio before we left Rokilio one year ago, so we were the first to sign up this year. Camp Rokilio, near Kiel, is something else, with six theme buildings — a fort, a gold mining village, a Viking ship (given my Norwegian heritage, I should lobby for this one), a space station (where we stayed last year), a castle, and a train station (where we’re staying this year). Assuming I survive the 100-yard swimming test (it nearly killed me last year — probably due to the effects of one of my damnable sinus infections and the fact I hadn’t swum 100 yards in approximately 25 years — even though I passed), there will be swimming, attempts to drown each other in paddleboats, archery and BB gun shooting, activities tied to, in our case, trains, and father-and-son time in the outdoors, rain, humidity and mosquitoes or not. That also includes my being the master of ceremonies for the Tuesday night campfire one night before departure, which is not an easy task. (You try coming up with jokes that entertain eight-year-olds and their fathers.)

This is all sort of a flashback for me, even though Cub Scout camps didn’t exist in my Cub Scout days. I moved on from Cub Scouts to Boy Scout Troop 67 in Madison for five years, and became one of the estimated 2 percent of Scouts to earn the Eagle Scout Award. That places me in the same camp with President Gerald Ford, H. Ross Perot, Steven Spielberg (who helped develop the requirements for the Cinematography merit badge), Sam Walton, several U.S. senators (that used to be something to brag about) and 33 astronauts. And, as someone suggested I do many years ago, I have it on my résumé, even 27 years after the fact.

One of the larger honors I’ve received was to speak at the Eagle Scout ceremony of a member of my church. The ceremony occurred 25 years after I got my Eagle Scout award, and, in a great example of calendar circumstance, 30 years to the day I left for my first full-fledged overnight campout, at the Kettle Moraine State Forest Northern Unit near Plymouth.

As I told the Scouts two years ago, that first campout was something I survived, rather than enjoyed. Being in August, it was hot and humid, and hiking with a fully packed pack is hard work. I was homesick despite the fact I had been away from home before then and my time away from home for the campout totaled less than 48 hours. I was thoroughly intimidated by the entire experience, and I didn’t fit in since I was a new Scout. My father picked me up, and I had planned to tell him that I’d had a terrible time and wanted to quit. What prevented that was another Scout, someone I didn’t even know, who needed a ride back to Madison. I wasn’t about to unburden myself to my father in front of a complete stranger, so I decided not to say anything until I got back home. And when I got back home, I didn’t get around to saying I wanted to quit.

Perseverance isn’t one of the Scout laws (they are, and I’m typing this without consulting the Internet: A Scout is: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent), but perhaps it should be, since, as adults find out, much of life is simply sticking it out. Perseverance is also a key to getting an Eagle Scout Award, since, when you’re 10 or 11 years old as a new Scout, that Eagle Scout Award is a long way off. As with any major accomplishment — say, getting an MBA degree, or winning the Super Bowl, or, as I did while I was in Scouting, hiking in the Rocky Mountains at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico — the accomplishment really isn’t about achieving the accomplishment, but in doing what it takes to earn that accomplishment.

(And speaking of accomplishment, a design accomplishment occurred with whoever designed my backpack. My parents bought it for me in the spring of 1976, and it went on every campout of mine in Boy Scout days, including the aforementioned New Mexico trip. I'm using that same backpack this week, 32 years after I got it.)

Boy Scouts are usually middle-school boys. That is a group that desperately needs role models, regardless of the kind of home they come from. I certainly didn’t come from a bad home — my parents have been married for 47 years, and other than sibling rivalry, there were no pathologies at home — and yet Scouting was important for me because Scout leaders, most of whom were the fathers of other Scouts, showed me that what my parents were talking about — do your work and do it well, be trustworthy, go to church, and so on — wasn’t just something my parents cooked up to make my life difficult; they lived the lives mature adults should live. That is a message that can’t be repeated enough not just to Scouts, but to middle and high school students, boys or girls.

Scouting seems to have become less popular over the years, although it wasn’t necessarily popular, at least among my age group. Scouting, of course, teaches values that are timeless, even if those values aren’t trendy or “in.” It’s not cool to be a Scout, and it’s not cool to live your life as a Scout; it’s just the right thing to do. Society, including business, should be encouraging organizations that encourage being trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. (That’s all I’ll say about the question of whether United Way funding should extend to the Boy Scouts, who refuse to allow homosexual men to be leaders.) I can’t think of a business that wouldn’t welcome an employee who lived his or her life according to those 12 tenets. This country doesn’t need more celebrities; it needs more people who try to live their lives according to those 12 parts of the Scout Law.

I told the Scouts — and who knows if the words connected — that the fact I was able to recite the Scout Law and most of the Scout Oath that day probably demonstrates that my Scouting experience did have an impact on me that extends to today, even if I don’t consciously asked myself every morning what good turn I’m going to do that day. I think the Scout Oath, which begins "On my honor I promise to do my best," and the Scout Law are a pathway to becoming someone who puts more into society than he takes out, regardless of how famous or wealthy or powerful someone is or is not, wherever someone is and whatever someone does.

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