Saturday, April 24, 2010

Paul Theroux On Boy Scouts

The world-famous novelist/travel writer, himself an Eagle Scout, contributes a fine op/ed to The New York Times on the Boy Scout movement, and calls for admission of gay and atheists youths to the ranks of scouts.

I can still recite the Scout Oath (“On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty...”), and the 12 points of the Scout Law (“A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful ...”); but I equivocate, because when I was a scout the abstractions of “values and ideals” mattered less to me than simply getting out of the house and away from the folks. Troop 25 in Medford, Mass., showed me how to make that elemental move.

We were only incidentally committed to being “physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.” We were black, white, thin, fat, rich and poor and united in being geeks. We rather disliked our uniforms. We knew we were different. Not one of us was good at throwing a ball or swinging a bat. Though we lived in suburban Boston, with its two Major League Baseball teams, I doubt that any of us could name a single player.

But we were keenly aware that being a Boy Scout allowed us to shoot guns, build fires and take overnight camping trips on our own. In every sense it was revenge of the nerds. You have a curve ball; I can hit a bull’s-eye with my .22.

Stifled by the hearty and the homoerotic in jock culture, I found refuge in the Boy Scouts, and an outlet for my love of hiking and swimming and solitude. It was important for me to separate myself from my parents. While other mothers and fathers cheered on their children at ballgames, we were on our own — two or three of us on an all-day hike, or target shooting up at the Stoneham sandpits.

Even Scout camp involved minimal authority, and its relative chaos was salutary. I earned badges for rowing and sailing — skills that have served me to this day. My lifesaving badges and Red Cross certification not only got me jobs at ponds and swimming pools in the Boston area, but enabled me, over the years, to rescue a number of hapless swimmers. The summer beach and the wooded path were as formative in making me a writer as the public library.

Occasionally we scouts operated as a team; but most of the time individual effort was what mattered. My heroes were explorers, mountain climbers and lone sailors (they still are) and my fantasy life revolved around bushwhacking and jungle ordeals (it probably still does).

Read the whole thing.

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