Thursday, February 28, 2008

Do Not Be Embarrassed by Your Boy Scoutingness

Although I was completely embarrassed to be in the Boy Scouts when I was in junior high and high school, I now realize that it had a pretty big effect on me, even though I never really advanced in the ranks, got a lot of merit badges, or came anywhere close getting my Eagle Scout. What I think is cool about the Boy Scouts is that they keep the gays away from our boys. Just kidding! Seriously though, what I do like about the Boy Scouts is the merit badge system, the idea that you are encouraged to try lots of things, to learn about them, to do them yourself, and to keep on improving and adding on to what's already there. I am now a person who likes to try lots of different things, and I honestly feel like my life better because of it.

Maybe it's not all just because of the Boy Scouts and merit badges. It could just be my family, the "be a Dixon" aesthetic (this usually meant "don't be a big complainer" but also later went on to mean "don't go down in that sinkhole, even if Phil Low offers you money to do it"), or the various activities we were made to/wanted to do.* My dad is certainly a bit of a renaissance man, he's good at lots of different things, and is always trying out new projects. But he's also an Eagle Scout, so I guess this argument has become kind of circular.

Needless to say, being in Boy Scouts was a significant part of growing up for me. The Mormon church is very into scouting. I'm not sure if scouting is so much like the church or the church is so much like scouting, but they be pretty good friends. Although I can't find any hard data on this, I'd venture to say that about 30% of all Mormon males over the age of 18 in the US are Eagle Scouts. Maybe even more, I dunno, Google has failed me on this one.

Because of the religious connection, I tend to associate experiences that I had in scouting with experiences that I had in becoming a spiritual person. There's probably a reason for this. After all, they took place at the same time, and a lot of times they were directly connected with each other. We had a scout leader named Steve Markham who we thought was pretty out-there at the time. We thought he was wacko in the same way that Daniel LaRusso thought that Mr. Miyagi was crazy for making him wax the car, sand the deck, etc. But just like Pat Morita in his award-winning (I assume, too lazy to check) role, he turned out to be a great teacher.

I remember one Sunday I came to church, and the other dudes had been on a camp-out the day before. I hadn't gone, either for some heavy metal reason or because of some orchestra contest (I know, it makes zero sense), I don't remember. But there was talk amongst the boys that some stuff had gone down. Some bad stuff, I heard that some of the kids really laid into this other kid, that they were making fun of him pretty bad or something. Well, Bro. Markham was also the teacher of the young men's class at church, and when we got together that day, it was pretty heavy. He laid it all out. He was very articulate. He read us some scriptures about how brethren in the church should treat each other (turns out it was D&C 88:133), and then he pointed out how what happened the day before was in contradiction of that. I don't really remember how he put it, but he told us that we should be doing better, and pretty soon almost everybody in the room was totally in tears, and we were telling each other "I love you." Teenage boys, for a moment being completely real. It was weird, and awesome.

That's the first time I ever specifically remember feeling that a heaviness had been lifted, that good had been made from bad, or that maybe this is what Christ suffered so that we could feel. It was great, it was like we had been trained our whole lives to do something, but we didn't really get it. Just like how Daniel-san, after complaining about waxing and sanding and painting, finally throws blows with Mr. Miyagi and realizes that he has been training to be a karate man without even knowing it; I think that at that moment we all realized that we had actually been trained to be sensitive to things of the spirit, and we were now really feeling it. "Is what just happened repentance? Weird."

Connections to spiritual growth aside, there are some practical things that I learned from being in the BSA. For example, leatherwork, wilderness survival, basketry, woodworking, cooking, tent-pitching, fire-making, shadow-puppets (when they play the movie back of my life, please, oh please, let them fast forward through the "Shadow Puppet Theater" part at scout camp that one year), how to change a tire, a very funny joke about waking up with Vaseline on your butt, how to put on a skit (skit, not skirt), and how to just generally be a good citizen.

There's something kind of magical about the Boy Scout Promise too, now that I read it after ten years or so:

On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.
I mean, in theory, this still holds up pretty strong (although my interpretation of one's duty to country is probably more liberal than most). I especially like the idea of being mentally awake. The founding scoutsmen could have chosen other adjectives to come after the word "mentally" such as "mentally sharp" "mentally alert" or even "mentally awesome," but I think that awake is the best way to be, mentally. It kind of means that you are to be aware of and active in the world around you. The Boy Scout Promise is not an island on it's own, oh no. In fact, it references the Scout Law, which is a whole different game:
A Scout is:
  • trustworthy
  • loyal
  • helpful
  • friendly
  • courteous
  • kind
  • obedient
  • cheerful
  • thrifty
  • brave
  • clean, and
  • reverent
These are all good things, but as I read over them, I think to myself, "Did we really ever think that we were going to be all of these things?" It seems like a lot for teenagers to understand, don't you think? I don't ever recall feeling inadequate in my thriftiness or bravery (cleanliness, probably), but I guess the public recitation of these high standards could be viewed as our Karate Kid wax-on/wax-off training for bigger things we didn't quite comprehend just yet. Many years later, I get it, and I'm sure that it has an entirely different effect for adults to see kids saying these things, because they know that the path to a good life actually is in fact that simple when put in a few words, but quixotically hard to follow when it comes down to making it happen.

Maybe they should consider adding "persistent" and "not too hard on himself" to the list, just to make things seem a tad more doable.

P.S. Is it a surprise that two of my favorite living musicians, Alan Sparhawk and Daniel Smith, are Eagle Scouts? Dudes are prepared. To rock!

*This is interesting because today someone asked me if I ever had a rebellious phase. I think that at the time it was happening I wanted to believe that I was having a rebellious phase, when in reality it was probably pretty mild. But one example of "my dark years" that I gave was that at a certain age I was totally lamed out by the idea of going out and doing stuff with my family. If you know my family, then this will seem kind of puzzling, but there was this crucial point at which "Would you like to go out for ice cream?" actually became a question that required some deliberation. Yes, of course I would like ice cream, but this would entail going out with the whole family in the red Toyota Corolla and maybe being seen by someone, therefore crushing the image I had of myself as a tough metal kid (I know, it seems absurd, but at one point, I actually considered myself to be a tough metal kid). It just didn't seem to fit; in my mind a metal dude had no family, even though Metallica clearly thanked Kirk's mom, Mrs. Hammett in the liner notes of Master of Puppets, complete with the phrase "Stylin' Chili" in parenthesis after her name. I don't know CPR, but I do remember that. I remember thinking "What is this 'stylin' chili,' and does Mrs. Hammett make it for the Metallica boys when they come to visit?" I suppose if I did actually think that, that means that I knew that even metal gods had parents, but still, I was weirded out about going places with my family for a while there. Point being, teenagers embrace fears that are completely irrational. The other point being that in families there can sometimes be an incomprehensible border between wanting to do something and being made to do something. Example: "You have to come out to ice cream with us." Now, at 30 years old, I would like nothing better than to go out for ice cream with my family. I imagine that's what heaven will be like.

P.P.S. Made in Japan V. 3 is live. Be sure to watch the Maywa Denki videos.
Also, can anyone explain to me why all the text below a blockquote goes single-spaced? Sorry the formatting on this one is horrible, but anytime I do anything to a chunk of text, everything below it gets single-spaced. It's real bad.


Davor said...

Dude, I love the way you bring it every post. This is the equivalent of "leaving it all on the ice" in the sport of hockey, which was an important theme in the film "North Country," starring Charlize Theron and Woody Harrelson.

Also, the single-spacing thing bugs me, too! I was stoked to notice the block-quote feature, but the formatting mess it introduces harshes whatever mellow I'm riding.

Seriously though, you are a righteous blogger! Valued highly!

M. H. D. said...

Thanks mang!

Sounds like I need to see North Country, since I love Charlize Theron and I also love bringin it.

I figured out how to correct the single-spacing problem. There's instructions on how to fix tr template here:

It has worked wonders for me, hopefully you will be equally as impressed. Do both little fixes they suggest there in the comments, and you will be stylin'.

Shannon said...

Wait... I think the Girl Scout motto I grew up with is almost exactly the same as the Boy Scout pledge. Alas, the G.S. motto has changed since I was young, so I don't think I can confirm this. But there was this song we used to sing called "On My Honor" and those were pretty much the words.

Girl Scouting was decidedly less spiritual than Boy Scouting. Like, there would be Mean Girls scenarios on every camping trip, and all kinds of hormonal drama once we all graduated from Brownies into Juniors.

*sigh* Memories.

plainoldsarah said...

wow - i learned a lot from reading this and a few of your other posts. thanks for being not just entertaining but truly inspiring.
(i'm just a blog drifter - i had to check out googlooping - i get searches for rs stories)