This article was published in the Irish Independent‘s Weekender magazine on March 31st, 2012.
What do Tony Benn, Tony Blair, The Edge, David McCullagh, Paul McCartney, Richard Branson, Bill Gates, virtually every American President since the early 1900′sand most of the NASA Astronauts who walked on the Moon, have in common – among other things, they were all Scouts. Yes, they all proudly wore the Scout badge and donned the Scout neckerchief bound by the leather woggle. I am proud to say, so did I.
Following the Good Friday Agreement, Scouting played its part, through the coming together of the former Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and the Scout Association of Ireland. Since then the new merged Scouting Ireland has seen its membership spiral to a point where it is now the largest voluntary Youth Organisation on the island.
Unfortunately, when people think of Scouting, it is the old stereotype of woggles and whistles, old men wearing short trousers and Bob-a-Job. Well you know the whistles are more or less gone, the short trousers have gone as a part of the uniform, since before I joined, way back in 1966. While, for child protection reasons, Bob-a-Job is no longer feasible, the honest Scout tradition of paying your way while suppporting social solidarity remains…as for the woggles…………. well you do have to keep some tradition.
So what is Scouting? Why, despite the many alternatives available, are young people still flocking to join its ranks. What makes Scouting different? Quite simply, what has made hundreds of millions join over the years? Scouting is a Movement – it is not an organisation and it is not static. It is above all a Movement, for and of young people, that has stood the test of time. Scouting is Fun. It has provided that sense of Fun, of Friendship and of Challenge to millions of young people across the world since it was founded in 1907. In the process it has managed to remain, despite many social and political changes, the largest voluntary Youth Movement in the World.
Scouting is based on the principle that young people do best, when they are trusted. They do best, when they are supported and they do best, when they are rewarded for effort rather than an externally defined ability. In Scouting you get rewarded for “Doing your Best” not “Being the Best”. It has a set of values that are even more relevant today, than one hundred years ago, when the Movement was founded.
Those values are timeless and were progressive visions, in a world that did not and sadly too often, still does not, see young people for the young citizens that they are and not just some sort of trainee adults. Long before it became fashionable, internationalism and respect for diverse cultures were tenets of Scouting. Long before the growth of the green movement, respect for nature and our environment, were core principles of Scouting. Long before the development of modern education norms, the encouragement of young people to ‘learn by doing’ was Scouting practice and long before notions of democracy were even contemplated in many societies the very essence of Scouting was of young people deciding for themselves, their programmes, their activities and their future.
However while those values remain and the ideas behind those values remain, Scouting has moved on in terms of its programme. You are more likely to see Scouts engaged in high technical projects that involve all the sciences than you will see them rub sticks together to light a fire. In any event in my experience two fire-lighters are far more effective. You will see Scouts travel the world engaged in Development Aid projects- from Ireland recently we had groups of Scouts travel to Peru working on building a home for single parents, involved in educational projects in India and Vietnam. Earlier this year a one thousand crew of Irish Scouts travelled to the world Jamboree in Sweden where they did as much to promote Ireland in two weeks as a plethora of Ambassadors did in two years. While in Sweden, they developed a unique Road Safety programme, with the Greek Scout Association that can be implemented right across the Globe.
I am proud to have had the opportunity and privilege to be a member of one of the most progressive and inclusive youth movements our world has ever seen. I am proud too, to have been part of a two hundred strong group from Donnybrook Scout Group, aged from 6 to 56, ranging right across the social spectrum, who travelled to Wales this Summer just to have a good time in the spirit of Scouting. That is the real spirit of Scouting, that is why it has remained so strong and that is why, I hope and believe, it will last for another century – at least.
Dermot Lacey is a long standing member of the Scout Movement and a former Lord Mayor of Dublin.