The Scout Promise

At camp this past weekend we invested new Scouts around the campfire with the Scout Promise:

On my honour,
I promise to do my best,
To do my duty to God and the Queen,
To help other people at all times
And to carry out the spirit of the Scout Law.

We had spent several weeks unpacking the promise and law a line at a time. There is a lot there–it’s not a simple thing. I have become more and more convinced as I grow older that the Scout Promise is one of the keys to Scouting done well and a set of ideas that can help get us out of the selfish mess we have gotten ourselves into as humans in this place and time.

The concepts of personal integrity and of our duty to others and to ideas bigger than ourselves is central to the promise and to Scouting.

There are some potential issues for non-theists of various traditions and for indigenous people in Canada/Turtle Island.

As an atheist myself, I think that the “God” word is only a real problem if you are a terribly literal thinker–the promise is full of words that stand for much bigger things than is immediately apparent: honour, duty, God, Queen, spirit. I personally would argue that the word god is a useful shorthand for ideas and values that are bigger than our own selfish wants: beauty, art, compassion, the natural world, love and hope. It doesn’t require a deity to be a valuable idea.

Similarly, the Queen is the symbol of Canada as a nation. People may or may not like the idea of Canada being a constitutional monarchy, but that is what we are right now and we have a duty to care for what is good in our country and everyone who lives here. However, our history and present structure is colonial, and that is both difficult in itself and presents a particular problem for those who are colonized. It may also be worth considering a promise that acknowledges that fact and finds a way to be even more aspirational.

I have developed a possibility that I think manages to maintain the big ideas of the original but opens up even more ideas while sidestepping the Queen. I feel like it includes spiritual concerns, but it is less obvious than in the original.

On my honour,
I promise to do my best,
To do my duty to this Land and her People,
To help others at all times,
And to carry out the spirit of the Scout Law.

Including the Land recognizes our indigenous past and present and invites us to reflect on what that means, especially what are sometimes called the “Original Instructions.” It is also ambiguous enough to include the more positive aspects of nationhood without getting tangled in language that is either individualistic or smacks of nationalism.

I’m not sure it’s complete yet, but it is much better than the more individualistic alternative proposed by Scouts Canada. I would be happy to hear your thoughts.

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