Inclusive Scouting Guide
Part 2: A Framework for Inclusion and Belonging
“The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.” — BSA Mission Statement
Advancing inclusion and belonging means more than just saying the right thing. The Scout Oath and Scout Law provide a framework for advancing inclusion and belonging by helping us navigate differences and discomfort with humility and curiosity while promoting lifelong growth and character development.
The Scout Oath and Scout Law can promote awareness and effectiveness when we navigate between the four “kinds of knowing”:
- When you know what you know.
- When you know what you don’t know.
- When you think you know, but may not really know.
- When you don’t know what you don’t know.
These four kinds of knowing help us clarify where our expertise ends, where our ignorance begins, and how to respond with humility. We are always negotiating between these kinds of knowing. When we are confident and secure about what we know, we may feel proud of our leadership and service. But sometimes it can be uncomfortable to acknowledge that there are things we don’t know, things we thought we knew, or things we never even knew to ask about.
What Do We “Know We Know”?
We know Scouting helps young people develop into effective leaders and engaged citizens of character.
We know the BSA’s Youth Protection training helps safeguard young people from physical, emotional, sexual, and verbal abuse. (27)
We know The Guide to Safe Scouting facilitates high quality and safe programming. (28)
But there are not many resources for ensuring we continue to advance inclusion and belonging by working to transform old habits of discrimination and exclusion. There are many things we know about implementing high-quality Scouting programs. Unfortunately, we may not always know how to advance inclusion and belonging in those programs. We may not even know how or why our programs aren’t advancing inclusion and belonging to the highest standards possible.
All the ingredients of the Scouting program we know and love, including Youth Protection training and The Guide to Safe Scouting, are essential for advancing inclusion and belonging in our movement. But even with these important resources, countless families and individuals have been, and continue to be, excluded from our movement. While these resources are important, they alone are not enough to help us advance inclusion and belonging toward a more vibrant Scouting future.
Learning What We “Don’t Know We Don’t Know”
As business researcher and leadership expert Michael Roberto writes in his book, Know What You Don’t Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen (29), in order to change organizational habits, become aware of blind spots, and create new possibilities for the future, great leaders must become more familiar with the fourth kind of knowing; what they “don’t know they don’t know”. According to Roberto:
“You must be willing to ask questions, seeking always to learn more about both the familiar and the unfamiliar.” (30)
“You must have the instinct to explore puzzling questions that may challenge the conventional wisdom.” (31)
“[You] must be willing to question your own prior judgments and conclusions.” (32)
“Most importantly of all, successful leaders do not see problems as threats. They see every problem as an opportunity to learn and improve.” (33)
In order to advance inclusion and belonging in Scouting and transform old habits of discrimination and exclusion, we’ll need to work together with humility — even if that means acknowledging we need to learn more about certain subjects or revise old assumptions. Thankfully, the Scout Oath and Law can help us do that.
“The Scout Oath and Scout Law provide guidelines for doing the right thing.” — The Boy Scout Handbook, 13th Edition, p.9
Harnessing the Scout Oath and Scout Law
The first step in advancing inclusion and belonging in Scouting is to affirm our commitment to the values of dignity, respect, and equality for all. In order to take this step, we must understand how the Scout Oath and Law can help us communicate those values and practice them throughout our lives. These values must be rooted in our everyday actions and embedded within all aspects of our programs and activities.
As the Scout Oath states:
“On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” — Boy Scout Handbook, 13th Edition, p.10
We believe that helping other people at all times, keeping ourselves physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight, requires us to continually advance the values of inclusion and belonging in our movement. The Scout Law helps us do our best to embody our Oath by reminding us about the moral virtues of Scouting:
“A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” – Boy Scout Handbook, 13th Edition, p.13
In this section, each point of the Scout Law is paired with an “Inclusive Scouting Reflection” (ISR). From this foundation, each component of the Scout Oath will also be paired with its own ISR. These questions help us see how our most important Scouting values support us in advancing inclusion and belonging, even as we navigate between the four kinds of knowing, especially:
What we think we know, but may not really know.
What we don’t know we don’t know.
As we will see, the Scout Oath and Law can help us practice the kind of leadership Michael Roberto calls for in acting with humility and continually seeking opportunities for learning, growth, and transformation. While this framework can’t tell us exactly what to do in every situation, it can help us practice how to respond skillfully when faced with challenges and difficult topics while striving to embody the Scout Oath and Scout Law.
The Scout Law / Inclusive Scouting Reflection (ISR)
A Scout is trustworthy. A Scout tells the truth. He is honest, and he keeps his promises. People can depend on him.
- Am I being honest about my biases and assumptions?
A Scout is loyal. A Scout is loyal to those to whom loyalty is due.
- Am I committed to changing old habits by honoring the leadership of people who’ve been excluded from Scouting?
A Scout is helpful. A Scout cares about other people. She helps others without expecting payment or reward. She fulfills her duties to her family by helping at home.
- Am I being of service to all, even those who are different from me or who challenge my assumptions?
A Scout is friendly. A Scout is a friend to all. They are a brother or sister to other Scouts. They offer their friendship to people of all races, religions, and nations, and they respect them even if their beliefs and customs are different from their own.
- Am I committed to advancing inclusion and belonging even when it’s hard or uncomfortable?
A Scout is courteous. A Scout is polite to people of all ages and positions. He understands that using good manners makes it easier for people to get along.
- Am I seeing the dignity and worth of others, even when they are different from me or disagree with me?
A Scout is kind. A Scout treats others as she wants to be treated. She knows there is strength in being gentle. She does not harm or kill any living thing without good reason.
- Am I treating others merely how I want to treat them? Or am I treating others how they would like to be treated on their own terms?
A Scout is obedient. A Scout follows the rules of their family, school, and troop. They obey the laws of their community and country.
- Am I doing my best to practice obedience to the highest values of inclusion and belonging for all? Or am I doing what I’m told, even if that means excluding and harming people who are different than me?
A Scout is cheerful. A Scout looks for the bright side of life. He cheerfully does tasks that come his way and tries his best to make others happy, too.
- Am I cultivating a positive outlook, or am I assuming Scouting isn’t a place where everyone can belong?
A Scout is thrifty. A Scout works to pay her way and to help others. She saves for the future. She protects and conserves natural resources. She is careful in her use of time, money, and property.
- Am I ensuring that Scouting is financially accessible for everyone and that resources are working for the shared benefit of all?
A Scout is brave. A Scout faces danger even if they are afraid. They do the right thing even when doing the wrong thing or doing nothing would be easier.
- Am I acknowledging my own blind spots, biases, and assumptions, even when they are hard to admit?
A Scout is clean. A Scout keeps his body and mind fit. He chooses friends who also live by high standards. He avoids profanity and obscenities. He helps keep his home and community clean.
- Am I protecting relationships and honoring my commitment to inclusion and belonging with integrity?
A Scout is reverent. A Scout is reverent toward God [and/or spiritual wisdom]. She is faithful in her religious [or spiritual] duties. She respects the beliefs of others.
- When situations are complex and challenges are great, am I responding with humility and curiosity? Am I aware of my interdependence with others?
The Scout Oath / Inclusive Scouting Reflection (ISR)
On my honor… By giving your word at the outset of the Scout Oath, you are promising to be guided by its ideals.
- Are my actions aligned with the values of inclusion and belonging, even when no one is watching?
I will do my best… Measure your achievements against your own high standards, and don’t be influenced by peer pressure or what other people do.
- Am I doing everything I can to cultivate inclusion and belonging in my Scouting community? Have I searched for new possibilities and partnerships?
To do my duty… Duty is what others expect of you, but more importantly, it is what you expect of yourself.
- Am I learning from my own mistakes and being accountable to communities who’ve been excluded?
to God… You can do your duty to God by practicing spiritual wisdom and by defending the rights of others to practice their own beliefs.
- Each person must discern what “God” and “Reverence” means for them. Everyone can ask: Am I cultivating the spiritual wisdom of complexity, humility, and interconnection to align my actions and values?
and my country… When you do all you can for your family and community, you are serving your country. Making the most of your opportunities will help shape our nation’s future.
- How can I leverage Scouting to enhance civic engagement for a more just, fair, and equitable society for all?
and to obey the Scout Law… When you obey the Scout Law, other people will respect you for the way you live, and you will respect yourself.
- Am I taking time to reflect on how the virtues of the Scout Law help me practice inclusion and belonging in my everyday actions?
To help other people at all times… By helping out whenever you can, you are making the world better.
- Am I doing my part to ensure that Scouting is the force for good, service, and justice that it should be?
To keep myself physically strong… Taking care of your body prepares you for a lifetime of great adventures.
- Am I treating my body in a way that supports a healthy and courageous life? Am I strengthening my ability to serve all who are excluded and marginalized?
mentally awake… Be curious about everything around you, and never stop learning. Work hard to make the most of your abilities. With an inquiring attitude and the willingness to ask questions, you can learn much about the world around you and your role in it.
- Am I vigilant about learning how exclusion and discrimination continues to occur in our Scouting movement? Do I bring a sense of curiosity to my own challenges and the challenges of others?
and morally straight… Your relationships with others should be honest and open. Respect and defend the rights of all people.
- Are my actions and relationships aligned with the deepest values of Scouting? Do I honor and protect the right for all to live with moral integrity, even when they are different than me?
Character also relates to how you make decisions, especially when the right path to follow is not clear. Common sense, ethics, wisdom, and good judgment help you make good choices and allow you to do your best with what you know.” — The Boy Scout Handbook, 13th Edition, p.44
This framework enhances our ability to provide support, safety, and opportunities for marginalized and excluded Scouts and Scouters in the event that their families, schools, or other spaces do not. We must never forget that, through Scouting, we are helping to grow the leaders of tomorrow. Every step of the way, we should be thinking about our own behavior, the examples we’re setting, and how we demonstrate our values through our actions.