Help Scouts know the gravity of telling 'white lies'

SOME BOY SCOUTS and Venturers, like many adults, live highly compartmentalized lives.

Their behavior in some settings—at the mall or at a party, for example—seems at odds with their behavior in other settings, say at church or at a Scout meeting. What they often fail to realize is that their different worlds can easily collide, exposing them as inconsistent at best or hypocritical at worst.

That’s why each Boy Scout rank requires a Scout to demonstrate that he lives the values of the Scout Oath and Law in his everyday life, not just at troop events.

One way to highlight character inconsistencies, though, is to lead ethical discussions that explore what happens when one area of a Scout’s life negatively affects another. Here’s an example.

The Dilemma
It’s noon on a Saturday, and Crew 641’s president, Austin McFarland, is late—very late—for the crew’s annual tobogganing trip. As members of the crew and adults pace the church parking lot, Vice President Bailey Jenkins tries again to reach Austin on his cell phone. Finally, she gets through to him.

“You sound awful,” Bailey says after he grunts a hello.

“Yeah, I feel awful. And don’t yell; my head hurts.”

“Do you have the flu or something? It’s been going around.”

“More or less. I went to Will’s party last night. We played beer pong, and I won—or so I thought.” He groaned.

Bailey is more than disappointed in her friend. “But you promised …”

“I know. Not again. I really mean it,” Austin says. “So about the trip, there’s no way I can come.”

“And what am I supposed to tell Mr. Simpson?”

“Just tell him I have the flu. That’s more or less true.”

Before Bailey can respond, Mr. Simpson, the crew Advisor, walks over. “What’s up with Austin?”

Bailey pauses, then says, “He’s, uh … he can’t come. He’s not feeling well.”

For Discussion
Like many ethical dilemmas, this one puts two positive values in opposition: honesty and loyalty. It also encourages young people to wrestle with what it means to help other people, a value found in both the Scout Oath and the Venturing Oath.

To help Scouts or Venturers explore this dilemma, discuss these questions together:

• Both the Venturing Oath and the Venturing Code talk about fairness. Is Austin being fair to Bailey? Is Bailey being fair to Austin? To Mr. Simpson? To the crew? Why or why not?

• Instead of telling Mr. Simpson that Austin has the flu, she tells him Austin isn’t feeling well. Is that answer true? Is it honest? Is there a difference?

•The story implies that Austin has misbehaved before and that he promised Bailey he wouldn’t mess up again. Should that affect what Bailey does? Why or why not?

• What Austin did at the party was illegal and self-destructive. Should that affect how Bailey reacts? Why or why not?

• Should Bailey react differently because Austin is crew president? Why or why not?

• Assume Bailey wants to help her friend, as the Venturing Oath calls her to do. Are her actions helping him? Why or why not?

Next Steps
Now, take the situation farther, assuming you’ve reached agreement that Bailey didn’t do the right thing or needs to do more. Challenge your Scouts or Venturers to come up with three or four different next steps Bailey could take, either alone or in combination. (For example, she could admit the truth to Mr. Simpson or she could do that and also insist that Austin meet with a substance-abuse counselor.) For each proposed solution, discuss these questions:

• How is the solution fair to Austin?

• How is the solution fair to Bailey? To Mr. Simpson and the crew?

• How does the solution help Austin?

Finally, discuss these questions:

• Which solution or solutions should Bailey try?

• What has this discussion taught you about fairness? About helpfulness?

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