(The NIKE company owns the copyright to the phrase “Just DO IT!” and is being used here with no infringement made. This article was originally in one of the last issues of American Scouting Digest magazine, where I served as a senior editor and writer. The Jamboree referred to was the 2010 National Scout Jamboree, the last one held at Fort AP Hill, Virginia.)
A famous sports apparel and sneaker manufacturer a few years back introduced a new slogan into the American lexicon.
The firm, called NIKE, gave us “Just Do It!” as incentive for us to do whatever activity we wanted to do to remain healthy, stay happy, and of course, to promote their products. We saw an impressive amount of money being poured into small basketball tournaments, chess events, marathons, runs and races, and the like.
Practically every recognized sporting event was transformed in some way by the firm into yet another way to sell shoes, hats, jackets, shirts and pants — all with their “swoosh” symbol and those few words. We had no real clue why we were “doing it” – we just “did it!” It was a great marketing tool… But please allow me to turn this around to a cornerstone of Scouting in America – specifically, the idea of the Good Turn.
Do we really understand WHY it’s important for us to “Do a Good Turn Daily”? I spent most of one of the last days during the last National Scout Jamboree at the two largest venues. I spent the morning half of that day at the Environment-Conservation Area and the other half at the Scout Fair. I asked 12 Scouts some questions; the most important for this column was “Why do you think we “Do a Good Turn Daily?” (and the follow-up, “Have you done one today?”) EIGHT of the TWELVE Scouts at each venue answered the first question predictably: “To get credit toward …” — whether it was credit toward a merit badge, rank, or the Service to America emblem. I asked them to explain the importance of the “Good Turn”. On purpose, I was in my military battle dress uniform (BDU) while interviewing these Scouts and not in my Scout duds; I was looking for real responses, not “canned Scout responses” or “memorized phrases” said because they are being interviewed by a Scouter for a Scouting publication.
A Scout from Central Alabama Council explained that “well, in order for you to become an Eagle Scout, you have to do some projects and that means that you have to help out others…” A Scout from central Indiana said that “there’s a badge called the Service to America badge and they (“the Scouts”) want you to earn it because it gets them more money or something.”
[Point of fact: no, the BSA doesn’t receive any money for the performance of Scouts doing “Good Turns” as part of earning the Service to America emblem.]
Two Scouts said that “when you help someone you get credit for it toward a merit badge (they couldn’t tell me which one, one thought it was “Citizenship in the Community”). You get the idea.
The other four from each venue answered similarly…
– A Scout from eastern Pennsylvania, an Eagle Scout, said “you’re always supposed to be of use to someone else. All of the time, like you’re a doctor or medic or something…”
– A male Venturer from Utah said “I haven’t done any good turns since becoming a Venturer, but I’m always helping out with just about anything that’s going on. It doesn’t have to be anything big…sometimes I just smile at someone and they smile back and that’s a good turn, don’t you think?” (yes, I do!)
– A Scout from Florida told me that “Scouts today don’t know how to really do a good turn. I know how because our Scoutmaster beat that into us…not like hitting us or something, but every time we turn around, we’re always doing something for some group or poor people or something. And it helps us get the word out that we’re around town, because now everyone wants to have us to help out. It gets old sometimes…”
– A Scout from Texas (he was really from Oklahoma, he said, but he came with a Texas contingent) said “we do this stuff and people don’t care. I thought that way, until like a month or so after we were doing a project for a school and some kid saw me at the store and came over and hugged me and thanked me. I didn’t know what to do but I said “thanks.” I don’t even remember what we did….”
Many of us in the BSA have had this idea that “everything we do, we get a badge for it.” It starts with Cub Scouting: Go on a day hike, get a badge. Pick up paper alongside a highway, get a badge. Watch TV with your friends, get a badge.
Everything in the program is associated with a badge. Not really — the advancement program is there, and there are steps one takes before they earn Wolf or Bear or the WEBELOS Badge. But those smaller steps — those intermediate steps — are now being “recognized” with some 80 or so “stock badges” which are sold at Scout Shops(tm) and through the Supply Division.
I get lots of letters sent to me asking “Where does my son put the recycling badge he got last week. He can’t put it on his uniform pocket because the badge he got for going to a historical location two weeks ago is there…” By the time the Cub Scout becomes a Boy Scout, the idea is already there: Do something for someone, get a badge. And when it doesn’t happen, as in the case of some Troops whose adults and youth REALLY understand what the Good Turn is all about, the parents go ballistic because “MY SON ain’t pickin’ up anyone else’ trash for NOTHING. You’ve gonna hand him a merit badge, or a pin or something!!”
Scouts, Scouters and PARENTS need to understand what the Good Turn is. Here is what the Good Turn is, in simple American English:
The Good Turn — Some positive form of action performed by a present or former Scout, either alone or as part of a group, which directly benefits another human being, an animal, or a place of community service or reverence. This action is performed WITHOUT THE EXPECATION OF ANY FORM OF RECOUPMENT, PAYMENT, HONORIAUM, OR FEE simply because the action is performed by a Scout, living the Scouting ideals. To be effective, this action should be performed DAILY.
There are four parts to this:
– The action is POSITIVE in nature. Beating up on some kid because he’s a bully is NOT a positive action. An entire patrol, however, confronting the bully and telling him or her to “back off” someone MAY BE positive in nature. Taking out the trash as a daily chore is NOT a positive action but taking out the trash, cleaning the trash cans, and perhaps even taking the recyclables down to the recycle center MAY BE a positive action. What or who determines if this is a “positive action”? The person you are performing the action for.
– The action DIRECTLY BENEFITS SOMEONE OR SOMETHING ELSE. Whether it is something to benefit the school, a church, a community action center, a pet shelter, or someone who lives on your street….it has to help THEM, not you. The action is something that they could do, sure. But you have chosen to do it for them, either by yourself or with others who are as like-minded as you.
– The action is PERFORMED WITHOUT PAY. Whether the pay comes in “camperships for your Scouts” or “money in your Scout account” or a direct “Here’s a quarter, call someone who cares…” Scouts DO NOT ACCEPT MONEY FOR GOOD TURNS. Nor do they accept a free gift card at the local restaurant. They should not accept patches, either. When Scouts accept those items, they have been PAID for their services. As someone told me on the Conservation Trail, “When you start taking money for doing what is supposed to come from the heart, it becomes a job.” Smart Scout.
– Finally, the action SHOULD BE PERFORMED DAILY, as in “Do a Good Turn DAILY”. It is not something to be done to “count toward next weeks’ count” of the number of service hours (although the BSA is asking us to compile that information so that they can statistically tell the public “you know, if your tax dollars had to pay for all of the Good Turns that Scouts and Scouters have done, it would come to…. X number thousands of dollars.”).
I did that one year – calculated the amount of money that 38,232 service hours have been recorded by a local Council’s Scouts in the performance of “Good Turns”, excluding things like Scouting for Food and the annual blood drive promotion. At the then- minimum wage back in 1998 ($5.15), it came to a whopping $196,894.80 – enough to fund that local Council for a full year!
With that information, I was able to support that local Council in their efforts to receive funding from the communities: “What would happen if the Boy Scouts – and all of the great things Scouting does for youth — went away?” was the message of that campaign. Many people do not realize that youth and adult members of Scouting put in extra time on their own to make their communities cleaner, enjoyable, and respectable – and they do not get a red cent for such efforts.
The BSA is trying…they are trying to bring back the idea of the Good Turn, but they are tying it to marketing campaigns. These campaigns do help to get the word out about the BSA and the good we do, but just doesn’t have the impact that you and me and the rest of the BSA would have if we would stop holding out our hands for something to wear at the conclusion of a day’s hard work and instead concentrate on the task at hand — to make someone else’ life a lot better than what they experienced.
Have YOU done your Good Turn today? Have you done more than ONE??
“Just DO IT!”