I’m writing this a few days early this week. I woke up this morning to news that the Boy Scouts of America declared bankruptcy amid thousands of abuse claims against the organization.
Scouting has been part of my family for generations. My grandfather made Eagle. I didn’t, but my son has a chance to do so. A couple summers ago I got to watch as he was tapped out for the Order of the Arrow, an honor society within scouting. It was 25 years to the week after I was.
I had some great moments as a scout, but the night I made OA was not one of them. You spend the first night sleeping out alone, with just your bedroll. I was sleeping on top of my bag because it was hot and humid. I remember waking and suddenly thinking “Get in the sleeping bag, you fool!” I did, 10 seconds before a tremendous downpour. They told us to go back to our troops’ campsites. I did, tossing my soaked sleeping bag onto the cot and flopping back down after reading the campsite’s sign by the flashes of lightning. It wasn’t a good night’s sleep by any means, but it makes a good story today.
Scouting gave me a lot. I was fortunate to have great leaders in my troop, and I still keep in close touch with one of the other scouts. He’s my oldest friend.
I was lucky. A lot of boys weren’t.
It’s infuriating that what separates their stories from mine was, in large part, luck. They wound up in troops where the leaders abused their trust. I didn’t. BSA then betrayed them by failing to turn in leaders they knew had abused boys.
To say that scouting mishandled things is a gross understatement. The first point of the scout law is “trustworthy.” BSA’s actions were anything but.
I don’t know what comes next. I hope the decision to file for bankruptcy was not aimed at avoiding the duty BSA has toward the scouts who were abused. I hope, but like many I am skeptical that such is the case.
What BSA needs to do is take the hard path. Trying to use the legal system to minimize the fallout from this scandal can only have the opposite effect. Legal niceties and hair-splitting cannot restore the organization’s tarnished honor. Only one thing can, if it is possible to do so at all.
BSA must not just do the right thing. It must be seen to do so. That will not be easy. It will not come without further embarrassment and humiliation. Trying to avoid responsibility, though, will only prolong the pain. It can only do more damage. Those who counsel otherwise are wrong.
I still believe scouting has a great deal to offer. I know how much I gained, how much my family has gained. Spending time outdoors, unplugged and away from colorful screens and electronic noise, is rare these days. Having that time changes your view of the world. It’s an invaluable experience.
Scouting can only offer that experience to future generations by owning up to errors and doing what it can to shoulder the responsibilities those errors created.
I hope it can.
I wish I knew.