A Scout is Kind

Kindness is a sign of true strength. To be kind you must look beyond yourself and try to understand the needs of others. Take time to listen to people and imagine being in their place . . . Extending kindness to those around you and having compassion for all people is a powerful antidote to the poisons of hatred and violence.

~ Boy Scout Handbook, 11th Edition

He stands on the edge of the dock contemplating a second plunge into the warming afternoon waters of Pit Lake, his calf-length X-Men swim trunks cushioning the knocking of his knees. During the swimming test the previous day, in water a couple feet deeper than he was tall, he struggled to stay afloat, eventually giving in to the panic and grabbing frantically for the safety of the nearby lifeguard and his bright red floatation device. He was labeled a Learner and given a clean white buddy tag to match.

Up for grabs on this day is the Aquanaut activity badge, an optional stepping stone along the winding path toward earning the Arrow of Light, the award that marks a scout’s transition from the Cub Scout pack to the Boy Scout troop. And while there are ways of getting there without getting wet, it behooves all young scouts to gain confidence in the water. So there he stands, shoulder to lilywhite shoulder with his peers, waiting for his turn.

Only with waiting comes a mounting anxiety, the dawning of a bodily countenance that speaks volumes: the wide-eyed and nervous glancing about; the arms folded tightly over his undefined, pre-pubescent chest; the gentle rocking, back and forth, on tiny feet. That he’s definitely NOT going to do this is becoming pathetically obvious. His father chimes in, employing the familiar sing-song stylings of encouragement that in this moment ring hollow, falling on ears tuned to an interfering and more dubious frequency. A counselor pulls him aside and offers his own voice to a chorus grown deafening. The din is too much and he folds. He’s sitting on the gleaming dock, head on his knees, and trembling hands over his ears.

A kid lost in a sea of knees.

Into the fray walks my son Ethan, dripping and pumped from his own successful completion of the tasks at hand. He sits down beside his friend and places a hand upon his shoulder. Doesn’t say a word. Instead, he offers him kindness.

Were this one of those after-school specials of old, there would more than likely come a point where, with the dragons of doubt having been slain with bright and shiny words of empowerment, and the soundtrack crescendoing to tear-jerking heights, the kid would have steeled himself, gotten up and taken the plunge. Cue the credits over a freeze-frame of his smiling and cherubic face. But camp isn’t Hollywood. The kid never got in the lake again.

In the world of Scouting, where achievement and advancement are expected and lauded with a tradition of pomp and pride, there is sometimes lacking an appreciation for simple acts of kindness. Hands on shoulders, bearing neither guilt nor empty words, are rare. No doubt there are times when a gentle push is called for. We are growing men after all, and weeding out doubt and instilling confidence will in time yield many daring acts. But there is also a time for silence. A gentle touch. A fallow moment where what is there is given the space to grow.

I have no doubt that my son’s friend will one day stand on that dock and take that leap. And in that moment, I believe he’ll remember not the voices that prodded him on but the touch of a friend that allowed him the space and time to do it in his own way, on his own terms. And the crescendo will be glorious . . .

[photo credit]

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23 thoughts on “A Scout is Kind

  1. Wow, very cool. A very kind, mature act on the part of your son. The arrow of light brought back many memories of my years in scouting. I saw a lot of boys just like that. Encouragement from a peer can make things easier. Nice post.

  2. Kindness IS a sign of true strength. My hunch is Ethan has been raised in a home where kindness is valued and frequently modeled. I’m going to print this post and share it with my sons.

    I have to tell you, this story brought back memories of trying to inflate the legs of my jeans to create a flotation device in a lake at summer camp. I nearly drowned. It was SO difficult! I need a drink now to calm my anxiety.

  3. Wonderful! Be proud of your son.

    As I read the story, I saw my baby grandchildren plodding into the lake with no fear, their parents running after them. I wonder if they’ll ever be that young man sitting on the peer in fear when fear finally is part of their vocabulary.

  4. As much as I liked the excellent writing and story, I couldn’t help but think about how many of us in later life become slaves to our comfort zones.

    Sometimes I think we are killing each other with all this kindness.

    The truth is withheld to coddle egos and self deceptions bloom. That chocolate full of trans-fats and empty calories is given with love and clogs the arteries. Etcetera ad infinitum.

    So in full blown wet blanket mode, I just hope that kid doesn’t ever run into trouble in the water any time soon.

  5. Rather less impressively than everyone else here, I was thrown out of the scouts for hitting someone with a chair. There isn’t a badge for breaking three of someone’s ribs. Most unfair.

    Two things Tysdaddy:

    1) Your son is significantly further along the path to be a decent human being than I am now, or am ever likely to be. This is a good thing.

    2)How can I send you my ‘I screwed up and started smoking again’ forfeit if you don’t put an address on your wishlist? Hmmm?

  6. Ah – the boyscouts. Can you imagine the conversation they must have had when they dreampt that one up:

    Lord Baden-Powell: listen – i’ve got this idea: we get loads of young boys, take them out into the woods and teach them how to tie knots…

    His Friend: Ermm….

    Baden-Powell: no, no – it’s ok – i’ve even got a song: it goes “ging-gang-goolie-goolie-goolie-goolie-wotcha”

    And so forth

    Seriously though – i had a great time in the cub scouts and had an arm full of badges to be proud of! Long may it continue

  7. This post could be applied to parenting. Hands on shoulders, no words spoken, no guilt implied–sometimes we parents need to take that approach with our kids. I think the boy will eventually get in the water (I hope so, water safety is so important!) and the fact that he wasn’t forced to do so will help alleviate his fears.

    Wonderful writing, as always!

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