Scouting magazine

Ethics debate: Balancing development and outdoor ethics

By their nature, ethical dilemmas involve situations in which two or more values conflict. When you make a decision to hold tightly to one value, you necessarily have to let go of another value — at least temporarily. 

That’s what makes ethical dilemmas so difficult to solve. That’s also what makes them useful as discussion starters for Scouts who’re trying to figure out how to live according to the values that Scouting teaches.

The dilemma described here will seem familiar to anyone who has led an organization: How do you affirm the contributions of group members without letting those contributions push the group in the wrong direction?

Note: Although this dilemma uses Boy Scouting terms, you can easily adapt it for Venturing. Substitute “crew president” and “crew officers’ meeting” for “senior patrol leader” and “patrol leaders’ council,” and talk about the Ranger Award’s wilderness survival requirements instead of the Wilderness Survival merit badge.

The Dilemma
Tommy Pirelli is one of those Scouts the leaders of Troop 923 secretly wish would play baseball instead. At 13, he’s a classic kibitzer. He’s happy to offer his own strong (and usually negative) opinions about the decisions the patrol leaders’ council makes, but he’s not at all interested in being a leader.

That attitude doesn’t change much after he’s elected patrol leader of the Pedro Patrol. He skips the annual

program-planning conference and barely contributes at a string of patrol leaders’ council meetings. Along the way, the Scoutmaster counsels Senior Patrol Leader Ben Malden to find opportunities to kindle even the smallest flame of Tommy’s involvement.

Ben gets his chance when planning the troop’s annual wilderness survival weekend. Suddenly, Tommy comes to life, making suggestions straight out of TV’s “Man vs. Wild.” Rather than build shelters with downed branches, he proposes felling a few trees. Rather than eating trail meals, he suggests trapping some rabbits.

Now, Ben is stuck. Does he shut Tommy down or approve activities that run counter to Scouting’s outdoor ethics? Or is there a middle path?

For Discussion
To simplify the discussion, set aside the issue of Tommy’s sudden interest in being a leader and focus on outdoor ethics. Explore these questions with your Scouts or Venturers:

Now, explore these questions about Tommy Pirelli:

Next Steps
Have your Scouts or Venturers role-play the planning process for the survival outing. Encourage them to find a resolution that affirms Tommy’s contribution, preserves their own positions as youth leaders and honors Scouting’s outdoor ethics.


FIND MORE ETHICAL DEBATES AT SCOUTINGMAGAZINE.ORG/ETHICS.