Monday, July 2, 2012

A Good Turn?

Everyone knows Scouts do service. But there are some who don't understand the concept very well.

I don't know how often I've gotten a call from someone requesting the help of my young men on some project or another. It's always put forward as a great opportunity for service. Usually I get really annoyed at these things because it seems to me they more interested in free labor than in helping boys.

Often, these well-meaning individuals bring up the idea that this could count as "service-hours" for rank advancements or the like. Or they offer to provide pizza, or doughnuts, or some other form of non-monetary compensation. That's all well and good, but I don't think that's what we're here for.

Robert Baden-Powell described the daily good turn like this:
"You Scouts cannot do better than follow the example of the Knights.
One great point about them was that every day they had to do a Good Turn to somebody, and that is one of our rules.
When you get up in the morning, remember that you have to do a Good Turn for someone during the day. Tie a knot in your handkerchief or neckerchief to remind yourself of it.
If you should ever find that you had forgotten to do your daily Good Turn, you must do two the next day. Remember that by your Scout Promise you are on your honour to do it. But do not think that Scouts need do only one Good Turn a day. They must do one, but if they can do fifty, so much the better.
A Good Turn need only be a very small one. It is a Good Turn even if it is only putting a coin into a poor-box, or helping an old woman to cross the street, or making room on a seat for someone, or giving water to a thirsty horse, or removing a bit of banana skin off the pavement. But one must be done every day, and it only counts when you do not accept any reward in return."
If you remember your BSA history, you'll recall that William D. Boyce was lost in a London fog and received help from a Scout. The reason that experience was exceptional, and what led to Scouting coming to America was the fact that the boy refused a tip, claiming that he was a Scout and simply doing his daily Good Turn.

I think it's great that people not only recognize service provided by Scouts but actually associate Scouts with service. That just shows how much we have done. But I worry that maybe we're not exactly on the right track when we do service "projects."

Don't get me wrong; organized projects to provide service are great. Responding to pleas for help is a good thing. Young men in the LDS church do their duty partly by carrying out assignments from their Bishop to provide service to others in need. It is wonderful. There's no reason to stop.

What I wonder about, however, is the focus on doing "projects" to fulfill requirements. Or accepting "payment" (in the form of doughnuts) for service rendered. I think Scouts need to go back to the basics of a Good Turn every day.

A Good Turn usually isn't planned ahead. It isn't rewarded with pizza. It is a spontaneous act of kindness or thoughtfulness carried out selflessly simply because it is the right thing to do.

During my personal scripture study this week I had some similar thoughts. In the Book of Mormon, after the prophet Alma organized the church he ordained priests to teach the people. "And the priests were not to depend upon the people for their support; but for their labor they were to receive the grace of God,... (Mosiah 18:26, emphasis added).

Shouldn't that be our attitude as Scouts? The only reward we should ever expect for our service is the grace of God to help us do even more.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more with your free labor comment.

    I taught a EQ class one day about service, dividing it into service and Service. One is a show of character, the other is assigned, coerced or otherwise obligatory, and to varying degrees detracts from its being a free-will offering (in my mind). There's a fine line between providing opportunities as a learning experience and ingraining an attitude of "service before self", and assigning work without teaching the value of just being nice because it's the right thing to do.

    I remember another scripture that touches on this (badly paraphrased): verily, they have their reward.