The seventh point of the scout law is “Obedient”. In the 1911 BSA handbook, it tells us that a scout who is obedient will obey “his parents, Scoutmaster, patrol leader, and all other duly constituted authorities.” It also says that
To be a good scout a boy must learn to obey the orders of his patrol leader, scout master, and scout commissioner. He must learn to obey, before he is able to command. He should so learn to discipline and control himself that he will have no thought but to obey the orders of his officers. He should keep such a strong grip on his own life that he will not allow himself to do anything which is ignoble, or which will harm his life or weaken his powers of endurance.
What do you think about that – is it reasonable and achievable in today’s age? What would you see as advantages to following through on that versus obstacles to achieving that level of self-discipline?
Where else does our obedience come into play with scouting ideals, that is to say, if we’re dis-obedient, does it affect other aspects of our honor? How about breaking the bonds of each other’s trust by dis-obeying a lawful direction or by allowing/enabling others to be disobedient? How about doing a task in a half-hearted manner or “shirking” responsibility, delaying their compliance with the command?
Even in the description of “A Scout is Cheerful” we see this statement – “He smiles whenever he can. His obedience to orders is prompt and cheery. He never shirks nor grumbles at hardships.”
Have you ever considered what it would be like to serve on a sailing ship in the Navy of the early 1800’s? The captain’s orders could not be questioned – it was critical for everyone’s safety that orders be carried out immediately and completely. Consider this passage from “The Scout Law in Practice”:
The authority of a captain on board ship is supreme, but this does not mean that he must close his mind to the opinions of his subordinate officers and be obstinate and self-willed in having his own way. It means always that the responsibility of all decisions rests with him, and this he cannot delegate to anybody else. As he cannot do all the work of the ship himself, he is obliged to have officers and petty officers, engineers, cooks, stewards, and seamen, under his command. The captain should understand, as far as possible, every detail of the ship’s work so as to know whether it is properly done or not. If it is not properly done, he is responsible for seeing that the error is corrected, either by putting another person in charge or by training the same person to do better. With a wise and capable captain and a good crew, a ship becomes a school in which many different men are taught many different things, and a happy ship is one of the happiest places in the world; but the chief thing required, and that which makes all the others possible, it the habit of obedience and discipline.
It s a mistake to imagine that, because he really gives all the orders, the captain himself is not obliged to submit to discipline. In the first place, unless he had been through the inferior grades of service with credit, and so shown that he knew how and was willing to obey, he could never have reached the chief command; and, in the second place, his responsibility makes a more severe tax upon his judgment and conscience than mere obedience to the orders of a superior officer. In serious matters, and in cases of emergency, when there is time, a good captain consults and listens to the advice of other men on board. This is a habit of all open-minded men which they use as a check on their own judgments; but it does not in the least interfere with the responsibility of the captain for the course which he determines to pursue, and which he alone has the authority to order. Responsibility and authority go together.
So the Captain can be obeyed since he’s got the responsibility to “make good decisions” and he’s familiar with the operations of the ship – typically having done many of those jobs as he learned and gained experience (kind of like how we do things in scouts – you don’t start out at Senior Patrol Leader unless you’ve had hands-on experience).
The book also offers this thought about obedience….
Some people think that obedience is either a childish, or a slavish, or a mean quality, but this shows great ignorance of its practical workings and the splendid results that it brings about. If obedience is from fear or merely for the sake of getting something for one’s self, then it is mean and selfish; but when it is the result of voluntary love of principle and order and a desire for the welfare of other people beyond our own, then it is one of the most noble and happy virtues.
How does obedience relate to leadership skills? Consider this description of the ideal scoutmaster from the 1911 BSA handbook –
The scout master is the adult leader of a troop, and must be at least twenty-one years of age. He should have a deep interest in boys, be genuine in his own life, have the ability to lead, and command the boys’ respect and obedience. [emphasis added]
A good leader is someone who can convince others to obey commands without hesitation. This isn’t accomplished through trickery or cunning manipulation, but by influence, fair dealings, consistency and charisma.
The Bible has a lot to say on the topic of Obedience. [Note: you don’t need to be “Christian” to be a scout, but in our troop, our families do share a common faith practice and we do investigate what scriptures tell us about these scouting ideals.] Can you think of some references to obedience or dis-obedience in the scriptures? How about these for starters?
- Adam and Eve had one rule to obey and they succumbed to temptation
- Deuteronomy 30:9-10 (and 30:15-20) offers a promise for obedience – “Then the Lord your God will prosper you abundantly in all the work of your hand, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your cattle and in the produce of your ground, for the Lord will again rejoice over you for good, just as He rejoiced over your fathers; if you obey the Lord your God to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.”
- Ephesians 6:1 and Colossians 3:20 direct children to obey their parents
- Daniel chapter 3 – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego obey God instead of King Nebuchadnezzar and get tossed in the furnace.
- Daniel chapter 6 – Daniel obeys God instead of King Darius and gets tossed into the lion’s den.
- Hebrews 13:17 – “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”
- Matthew 5:17-18 — Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (we are called to obey, even under grace)
How about our own Troop verse? Psalm 1:1-3 talks about finding our delight in the law of the Lord and being like a tree firmly planted by streams of water and prospering in our actions.
Obedience is a positive choice that each scout makes for himself. It represents a commitment to:
- working as a team to accomplish big projects in a safe and timely fashion
- submit to established laws and rules
- comply with a leader’s lawful and reasonable directions based on their authority or influence.
Conversely, disobedience typically leads to chaos, and the breakdown of scouting ideals when we can’t trust each other to get tasks done in a correct, consistent or timely manner.
I’d encourage you to also visit these blogs for some additional thoughts on the scout law (and obedience in particular)…