What scouting has taught me

Daily writing prompt
Share a story about someone who had a positive impact on your life.

After a three-month break from writing on this blog, I am back today to answer today’s blogging prompt. I am not going to describe someone who had an impact on my life though, but instead a something that has strongly shaped who I am today as an adult: being a girl guide.

A little bit of background first. I have recently had the opportunity to see my old girl-guiding time friends again, and so we got to reminiscing. This got me thinking about how this experience — which lasted from the age of 9 to the age of 20 for me — strongly influenced who I am now, and also how I have grown out of it and how I would change it if I had the power to modify the scouting movement today (in Italy at least).

What scouting has taught me

I think the two most important skills I learnt from scouting were the ability to live and work in a team, even with people I don’t like or don’t particularly agree with, and the ability to make do with what I have to find solutions to problems.

The scout movement in Italy (and worldwide as far as I know) is still based on a military-style division of scouts and guides into groups led by a “senior” scout or guide, a group who generally competes with other groups to reach a specific goal or achievement. Competition aside, this helped the very introverted teenage me to learn to deal with living in a small community, accepting the flaws of the people I didn’t like and making my voice heard when necessary. I also met people who have stayed my friends for life and with whom I still share certain basic values, which is something rare and wonderful.

In addition, since a lot of emphasis is put on practical skills during scouting trips (cooking with fire, building tables and other structures with only wood and ropes, using a compass, first aid…), through all this training I learnt to find solutions to practical daily problems using minimal means, and to be a little crafty when necessary. This might seem like a secondary fact, but it has actually helped me out several times in life, as well as having developed in me a pleasure in making things with my own hands such as making handmade soaps, knitting, gardening, woodworking, and so on.

What I would change about the movement today

In spite of these positive outcomes, there are still a lot of things I wish were different during my scouting days, and that I wish the movement changed today — but still hasn’t. Here’s my top 5 list:

  1. Animal-based foods: one of the rules that a guide or scout pledges to obey to when taking the oath is respecting nature. I don’t understand how that is possible while feeding mainly on animal-based products, which are responsible not only for an immense amount of suffering and death among farmed animals, but also are a leading cause deforestation, habitat loss, water and air pollution, worker exploitation, and the list goes on.1 I really wish scout leaders, and the movement in general, became aware of this and started really doing something to educate younger generations about the impact our food choices have on the environment.
  2. Military jargon and rules: as you might have noticed from the previous point, the scouting movement has been designed with a military structure in mind. This on the one hand gives it structure and teaches kids about discipline — without the insane bellying and blind obedience typical of the military milieu. However, I still think the scout movement should disenfranchise itself from military jargon, ranks and hierarchies, and find new, creative ways to maintain a sense of community while promoting peace and democracy among its members.
  3. Faith-based groups: this is the main reason I left the movement, which in Italy is tightly linked to the Catholic Church. The biggest scouting movement in Italy is a Catholic one, and even the ones who are not still place a big emphasis on faith and religion. This of course not only means excluding an increasingly big part of society who does not align with these values, it also brings into the movement a series of contradictions and problems that in my opinion can only be solved by disenfranchising from the rile of the Church.
  4. Gender distinction: scouting groups are still divided into “girl guides” and “boy scouts”, a frankly anachronistic separation which excludes people who do not feel represented by one of the two traditional genders. I think in today’s society scouting should lead the way in showing how inclusivity means respecting everyone’s identity, regardless of what gender or faith they identify with.

In short, there are many structural problems to the movement that would make me think twice before sending a child to a scout group today. But I still feel scouting has a lot to offer to young people, if only it had the courage to reform itself and to incorporate the issues and concerns of our contemporary world.

  1. For more information, see https://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/issues/nature-food/1803/feeding-problem-dangerous-intensification-animal-farming/ ↩︎

Care to comment?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from The Mast-Head

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading