ScoutingSeptember 2001

Compass Bearings

By B. R. Bearden
Illustration by Richard Sparks

When right and wrong are involved, it's not always easy for a Scoutmaster to let a Scout decide what to do.

In my 11 years as a Scoutmaster, I have often been rewarded by the actions of the boys. Such was the case with Andy and the compass.

Our troop was participating in a spring camporee. Except for a little rain on Saturday afternoon, the weather had been perfect. The mosquitoes had shown some respect for our bug repellent, and the ghost stories around the campfire had chilled the spines of the older boys as well as the new Scouts. All in all, it was the kind of camping trip we love to repeat.

After breakfast on Sunday morning, as the boys enjoyed a last chance to explore and savor the woods and creek beside our campsite, I reviewed the weekend with our assistant Scoutmaster, Eugene. We discussed what had gone right and the few areas where improvement was needed.

Lost and found

When the Scouts returned from the woods, Andy, one of the younger boys, came to where we sat and proudly handed me a nice compass.

"I found this, Mr. Bob," he said, "down by the creek."

"Andy, it probably belongs to a Scout," I said as I gave it back to him.

He scuffed his shoe in the dirt. "Maybe somebody lost it here before the camporee," he suggested. "Other people camp here all the time."

"Did it look to you like it had been lying in the woods for very long?" I asked.

"No, sir, it was just a little wet," he admitted, then added, "but I found it! And if a Scout lost it, why didn't someone ask about it at flag ceremony, when they were returning lost towels and things?"

Eugene answered: "Maybe the Scout who owns it doesn't know he has lost it."

"But a lot of the troops are already gone. The guy that lost it has probably already left," Andy argued. He was looking at the compass, and I could tell he didn't want to give it up. "And if I had lost something, how do you know it would be returned to me?"

"I don't know that, Andy," I had to admit. "But I would hope that another Scout would want to find the owner before claiming something as his own. Besides, look at that compass. It's an expensive one, not something most boys would buy. It was probably a gift from his parents or grandparents."

"A birthday present or a reward for making First Class or something like that," Eugene added.

"Mr. Bob, if you say I have to turn it in, I will. But, I think I should get to keep it, since I found it."

"Andy, it is up to you to decide. If you turn it in, they will ask the Scoutmasters at the next roundtable if any of their boys lost it. Then it might go back to the owner," I said.

"However, you found it, and if you had not, someone else would have, or it would have been ruined just lying there. If you decide to keep it, I won't try to make you feel guilty about it. In fact, I won't mention it again."

Andy stood, thinking it over, then said, "Then, I am going to keep it."

Second thoughts

As we spent the next hour loading up, I kept hoping Andy would notice, as more and more troops left, that his chance to return the compass was dwindling away. But he showed no sign of thinking about it at all, as he laughed and cut up with the other youths.

When we finished cleaning our campsite, one of the commissioners inspected. I thought Andy would offer the compass to him or ask if one had been lost. He did not.

Our site was marked off, and we piled into our vehicles for the trip home. Andy was one of four Scouts riding with me as we drove to the exit from the park area. Off to the side was the camporee headquarters' dining fly. The commissioners were standing about comparing notes, and I waved to them as I began to pull out.

Suddenly, Andy shouted, "Mr. Bob, stop!"

I hit the brakes, thinking I was about to run over something. Instead, Andy jumped out and ran to the dining fly. He talked with the camporee director and handed him something, which I knew was the compass.

"I gave him the compass," he told me when he returned. "He said if nobody claimed it, he'd give it to me."

"What made you decide to do that?"

"Well, I kept thinking how my dad gave me my knife and how much I would hate to lose it. I'd hope whoever found it would return it to me. I would've thought of that every time I used that compass." He looked at me with that wisdom I have always admired in these young men. "Mr. Bob, I'd rather be lost."

I felt such pride in Andy at that moment that even now I feel it, years later. He is a young man now who has finished college and comes by to see me when he is in town. A decent, polite young man still. And I doubt he ever gets lost.

B. R. (Bob) Bearden is the former Scoutmaster of Troop 47 in Port St. Joe, Fla.

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