What is a Scouts’ Own?
A Scouts’ Own is an important part of the spiritual life of any Scout section
The whole educational approach of the [Scout] Movement consists in helping young people transcend the material world and go in search of the spiritual values of life (WOSM 1992:5).
What is a Scouts' Own?
I will define a Scouts' Own as "a gathering of Scouts held to contribute to the development of their spirituality and to promote a fuller understanding of the Scout Law." Let's to a look at what this definition means.
A Scouts' Own is a gathering of Scouts. This can be in groups as small as two or as large as a whole World Jamboree, though groups of a few patrols work best. In smaller groups, Scouts are able to get involved, share their experiences, and see that spirituality is something that effects everyone.
A Scouts' Own is held for the development of the Scouts' spirituality. Spirituality is that which is beyond the material; that which gives meaning and direction to one's life.
Scouting is primarily concerned with how people live out their beliefs in everyday life. Hence, a Scouts' Own should connect in some way to the Scout Law, the ethical code of Scouting. Usually, this is done by mentioning the Scout Law, making allusions to it, and/or including a recitation of the Law as part of the Scouts' Own. Some Scouts' Owns may simply include ethical content which the Scouts can connect to the Law themselves.
What is Spirituality?
Spirituality is that which is beyond the material world, beyond the world of interacting matter, beyond the world of science. One's spirituality gives meaning to the material world, so that we may see it not as just matter and energy, but as a wonderful whole, perhaps part of a divine plan. One's spirituality also gives direction to how one should act in life, based on its meaning. For example, if the meaning of the world is that it is the creation of God, then one has a responsibility to protect and use responsibly the earth's resources. Spirituality is not about creeds. It is about this search for meaning and direction, and is expressed in how we behave towards others and towards the entire cosmos.
According to the World Organization of the Scout Movement (1998:10), spiritual development in Scouting is directed towards "[d]eveloping the ability to:
- acknowledge and explore a dimension beyond [humanity];
- explore the spiritual heritage of one's community;
- understand the beliefs, practises, and customs of other world religions;
- integrate spiritual values into one's daily life and in the global direction of one's development towards and higher and more unified state of consciousness.
The first point above deals with the wonder and emotion that we feel when encountering the world. A flower may be colourful in order to attract insects, but it is also beautiful. Acknowledging and exploring this sense of beauty is an important step to finding meaning in the cosmos. This is why BP believed that nature study is so important. Likewise, the ugly things in life such as pain, suffering, and inequality, give rise to a sense that we must all work to right the wrongs of this world. We find the strength to do this in this dimension beyond humanity.
The second and third points above deal with a Scout's knowledge of how others have answered the spiritual questions of the world. In order to understand and get along with people of their own culture and those of other cultures, one must understand their spiritual beliefs, their religions. Scouting believes that people may choose whatever spiritual path they wish, but that they should do so based on sound knowledge. One must not abandon the religion of one's community unless one understands what one is giving up; and one must not choose another path unless one knows what one is accepting. While most religions offer answers to questions of meaning and value, Scouting helps people to ask the questions. Scouting hopes to help people understand the spiritual diversity of the world so that Scouts can make responsible spiritual choices.
The last point above deals with putting one's beliefs into practice. BP believed that a person's religion is in how they behave, rather than in what they believe. This is where the Scout Law intersects spirituality. Scouting hopes that Scouts will connect their spirituality to the Scout Law so that the living out of their religion is also an active expression of the Scout Law.
Designing a Scouts' Own
Scouts' Owns are made up of a combination of stories with a moral or spiritual message; metaphors, such as describing learning in terms of packing a backpack for life; prayers, where hopes, fears, emotions, and thankfulness are expressed; songs, which usually are prayers; and sharing between those present.
These elements can be combined in a variety of ways. One should not include any elements that will not lead towards the goal of the Scouts' Own. For example, songs should not be included unless the members would really enjoy singing them. Campfires are the place to introduce Scouts to singing, not Scouts' Own. These elements also need not be combined in a manner that resembles a church service. When telling a story or parable, one need not explain its meaning. A parable hides the truth from those who are listening until they are ready to understand it. The Scouts may be turned off by the moralizing instead of leaving thinking about the story, later to find meaning in it.
A Scouts' Own should be focused on a few closely related concepts. If the topic of the Scouts' Own is too broad, the Scouts will be unable to grasp it. In Beavers and Cubs, the Scouts' Own should concentrate on one very simple message which is illustrated with many examples. Kids of these ages are unable to fully comprehend abstract concepts like justice. They can give many examples of what is just or unjust, but they cannot deal with an abstract definition. Scouts can start to understand abstract concepts, but things must still be kept to a few concepts.
To help the Scouts concentrate on the Scouts' Own, it is a good idea to hold it in a special place, such as a lookout or pretty clearing in the forest. It should be a spot not usually used for other activities, so that it will be somewhat special. Many camps have a chapel area set aside. Be careful, however, as many chapels come with crosses which make them appropriate only for Christian Scouts' Owns. Choosing a spot some distance from the camp site is beneficial in another way. At the end of the Scouts' Own, the group can file back to the camp in silence and walking with several paces between each person, allowing a time for silent contemplation of the topic of the Scouts' Own.
Scouts' Owns must be planned by Scouts and/or Scouters. When planning a Scouts' Own, one can draw upon many sources for inspiration. Books of ancient wisdom, such as the Koran, the Christian Bible or other religious texts; children's stories; The Best of The Leader Cut Out Pages; the writings of Baden-Powell; and the Jungle Book are all good sources. Remember that a Scouts' Own does not need to fit any prescribed framework: one does not have to include a reading or a prayer if one does not want to. In fact, pointing out that what is being said is a prayer might distract the Scouts from the words.
If one is going to include a prayer, ensure that it is appropriate for those present. One should never assume that everyone is, for example, Christian. Often the difference between a Christian prayer and a universal one is the closing. References to Jesus or Lord are Christian-specific (Father is marginal). A reference to God is not, as Scouting uses that word to refer to all conceptions of God. However, Be aware that many religions, such as Jainism and Humanism, have no conception of God. Prayers can be worded "We are thankful for..." instead of "We thank God for..." to get around this problem. If people wish to say "Amen" at the end of a prayer, they may do so, but if it is written on the Scouts' Own program (if you have one), then that suggests an expectation that it be said, making the prayer Christian-specific.
While it is important to set a Scouts' Own apart from the rest of the day, if one makes too big a deal of it, the Scouts may be distracted and the point is missed. The Scouts should gain the understanding that thinking about spiritual concepts is a normal part of life and should not be restricted to special places and times.
Most Scouters believe that hats should not be worn and knives should not be carried at Scouts' Owns. The not wearing of hats is due to the Christian tradition where males do not wear hats in church. In many other religions, however, it is expected that hats be worn during prayer. In any case, a Scouts' Own is not a church service. At my Scouts' Owns, I make no comment about hats; people make the choice to wear or not wear hats as individuals.
The issue of knives is similar. At many Scouts' Owns that I have attended, there has been a knife log into which one sticks one's knife upon entry to the area where the Scouts' Own is taking place. The reason for this has been that Scouts should not carry weapons during a Scouts' Own, as in a church service. However, a knife is not a weapon to a Scout. A knife carried by a Scout is a tool that helps them to Be Prepared to carry out the Scout Law. A Scout should Be Prepared no less at a Scouts' Own then any other time, so Scouts should continue to carry their knives during Scouts' Owns.
A Scouter's Five has the same purpose as a Scouts' Own, but should not last longer than five minutes and consists of a story or metaphor told by one Scouter, usually without any interaction with those listening. A Scouter's Five should be held at the end of campfires and Scout meetings.
I will now relate two examples of successful Scouts' Owns that I have run. The first is a Cub's Own based on the concept of thankfulness. The Cub's Own started with a hike to a clearing nearby to the camp site. I began by asking the Cubs what thankfulness was. They offered their suggestions. After summarizing the ideas, I divided the pack into sixes and distributed the Scouters among them. I asked each person to think of something that they are thankful for and to discuss these in their sixes to help each other think of things. After a few minutes, I called everyone back and went around the circle asking each person what they were thankful for. Cubs could repeat ideas, but this happened little. After we had gone around the circle, I said what I was thankful for, summarized what the Cubs had said, and added that I was thankful for being able to be part of a Cub Pack. This connected to the recitation of the Cub Promise, which ended the Cubs' Own.
The second Scouts' Own that I want to give as an example was with a Scout Troop. We went on a short hike to a clearing in the woods and sat on the ground. I told a story of a person who had been influenced by peer pressure to nearly steal a tire for the car that they and two others were driving in. I asked the Scouts why this person, who is normally law abiding, would do this. I asked for a more complete explanation when the answer of peer pressure came up. "We have a label, but what is peer pressure?" I asked. We discussed its meaning and its many forms. Next I described psychologist Soloman Ashe's experiments on peer pressure, particularly his experiments which showed that one brave dissenter in a group will be enough to encourage others to take a stand against wrong. I cautioned the Scouts that one can be easily influenced to do things that are wrong by a friend. As protection against this, I suggested that the Scouts compare all that they do to the Scout Law to ensure that they are not being led to do wrong by others.
The key to success in a Scouts' Own is to stick to the purpose: to develop spirituality and a better understanding of the Scout Law. The Scouts' Own must be interesting to the Scouts and be at their level in order to be effective. If you leave behind any preconceptions about a Scouts' Own being similar to a church service and you stick to spirituality that the Scouts can understand, you will succeed in contributing to the spiritual development of your Scouts, meeting Scouting's Purpose.