When I was a boy, I was a boy scout. In order to earn its inaugural rank, I had to memorize the Boy Scout Law, which I now recognize as another example of a list of virtues: A Boy Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
The list has its origins, I think, in the works of Ernest Thompson Seton, who founded a group called “Woodcraft Indians” that encouraged white kids to emulate a romanticized (and now somewhat cringeworthy) idea of Native Americans. The virtues of “the Redman,” according to Seton, were:
- Thrift and Providence
- Treatment of Their Women [sic]
- Courtesy and Polite Behavior
- Truthfulness and Honor
- Temperance and Sobriety
He translated this into “The Redman’s Way” or “Woodcraft Laws” as follows:
- [No] Smoking if you’re under 18
- [No] Fire-water (alcohol) in camp
- [Protect] Wild-life
- [Safely tend] Wild-fire
- Play Fair
- [Keep] Silence
- [Hold sacred your] Word of Honor
The original Boy Scout law was inspired by this (and also by Nitobe Inazō’s book about bushido):
- A scout’s honor is to be trusted.
- A scout is loyal.
- A scout’s duty is to be useful and to help others.
- A scout is a friend to all, and a brother to every other scout, no matter to what social class the other belongs.
- A scout is courteous.
- A scout is a friend to animals.
- A scout obeys orders.
- A scout smiles and whistles \[is cheerful\].
- A scout is thrifty.
- [Added a few years later] A scout is clean in thought, word, and deed.
The Boy Scouts of America added “reverent” and “brave” to the list to round out the full twelve virtues. At some times the duty to be “a friend to animals” has been replaced by a more generic “a scout is kind” (as it was when I was a scout).
Certain other Scout traditions, like the Motto “be prepared” and the Slogan “do a good turn daily,” might also be considered to fall under the heading of virtues.
The Girl Scouts, which was founded soon after the Boy Scouts, took that Motto and Slogan as well, and the ten items in the Boy Scout law in almost the same wording as shown above. It’s refreshing to look at them side-by-side from over a hundred years ago and see that they did not make many embarrassing gendered assumptions about pink & blue virtues. However, today the Girl Scout law has evolved distinctly from the Boy Scout law, and the Girl Scouts USA law now reads:
I will do my best to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, and responsible for what I say and do, and to respect myself and others, respect authority, use resources wisely, make the world a better place, and be a sister to every Girl Scout.
Another thing about scouting that’s potentially relevant to our project is its practice of incremental skills-development. Girl Scout “Daisies”, for example, earn “petals” for each of the core virtues they demonstrate, in the form of badges they can wear on their uniforms. And both Boy and Girl Scouts earn badges as they demonstrate particular skills ranging from first aid to cybersecurity to sculpture.