Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Courteous: adj.  1: marked by polished manners, gallantry, or ceremonial usage of a court  2: marked by respect for and consideration of others

A Scout is courteous is the fifth point of the Scout Law.  The word is reputed to have first been used in the 12th century.

A SCOUT IS COURTEOUS: That is, he is polite to all—but especially to women and children and old people and invalids, cripples, etc. And he must not take any reward for being helpful or courteous.
-Lord Robert Baden-Powell

In two weeks my Cub Scout Pack will gather for our October Pack meeting which as recent tradition dictates will be our fall campout.   I think that we are unusual in the fact that we have a fall and a spring campout but I believe the experience for the boys is a beneficial one.  The danger in having a few campouts a year, especially if they are held in the same location, is that they become stale resulting in a decline in attendance.  Fortunately this is not the case for Pack 33.  Planning weekend event is something I find both relaxing and entertaining.  Note I said planning not executing which is never relaxing or entertaining. But I digress. In order to keep the events fresh I set a theme and then design the curriculum and activities around the theme.  This next event is “Return to Camelot”.   Although the younger boys still do not know who King Arthur and the Knights of the roundtable are I know that they will throw themselves into a tale of knights in shining armor with reckless abandon.  The boys will joust, participate in a grande melee, explore family history and art, and launch pumpkins from a trebuchet as they complete requirements for Engineer Pin, Heritages Pin, Art Belt loop, and Good Manners Belt Loop.  But the most important lessons they will learn will be wrapped in the knight’s code of chivalry.

Chivalry, or the chivalric code, is the traditional code of conduct associated with the medieval institution of knighthood. It was originally conceived of as an aristocratic warrior code — the term derives from the French term for horseman — involving individual training and service to others. Over time its meaning has been refined to emphasize more ideals such as knightly virtues, honour and courtly love, and less the martial aspects of the tradition. The Knight's Code of Chivalry was a moral system that stated all knights should protect others who cannot protect themselves, such as widows, children, and elders. [1]  

It is said that Scouting was brought to the United States as a result of a good deed.  According to somewhat fictionalized legend, William D. Boyce had become lost in the dense London fog in 1909, but was guided back to his destination by a young boy.  When offered a reward for his service the youth refused and told him that he was merely doing his duty as a Boy Scout.   Boyce then read printed material on Scouting, and on his return to the United States, he formed the BSA. From its start, Boyce focused the Scouting program on teaching self-reliance, citizenship, resourcefulness, patriotism, obedience, cheerfulness, courage, and courtesy in order "to make men" [2]

The basic principle of chivalry; to protect those widows, children, and elders who cannot protect themselves, and the good deed that inspired newspapermen to start the Boy Scouts of America have one thing in common.  All of these actions are acts of courtesy.  Courtesy comes from the 12th century old French word ‘courteis’ meaning gentle politeness and courtly manners.  Courtesy seems to be a dying sentiment. Of course I am writing this essay from a man’s perspective which I will admit is limited but we are talking about teaching Cub Scouts to be young men, right?  From this man’s perspective feminism is one of the daggers in the heart of courtesy.  

Before all of my readers belonging to the fairer sex organize a lynch mob let me point out that I believe that feminism is symptomatic of the continuing need for the modern women to fight hard for equality in society.  Most of you have heard stories where the act of holding or opening a door, offering up or pulling out a chair, was met with condescension rather than thanks or even general acceptance that it is at the very least a quaint gesture.   A condescending reaction infers that the recipient believes the gesture somehow implies she is unable to open her own door or find her own chair.  Frankly this train of thought is silly.  Men work on basic impulses. Assigning such complex reasoning, negative or not, gives way to much credit to men as a species!  

We are two generations removed from the modern upheavals of the male female relationship wars of the 70’s.  The impact is noticeable as we see men and boys taking the easy way out.  Women young, old, pregnant, or juggling an infant, toddler, shopping cart and a set of keys are ignored.  This complete lack of situational awareness is not just limited to the men of the early 21st century either.  As I walked up to the local shopping mall I observed women in a wheelchair trying to get through a door that was not equipped with one of the ubiquitous “push here” buttons for handicapped access.  Leaning up against the outside wall was a group of young women chatting and smoking.  Not one stepped forward to help.  Even worse I observed another couple leave the store through an adjacent door passing foot from the wheelchair bound women trying to get in.  I did hold both the inner and outer doors when I arrived and I was not met with scorn or derision for assuming a wheel chair and a door could not be managed simultaneously without growing an extra arm.

In my previous essay on being “helpful” I referenced the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company™ add campaign.  They ran a series of commercials as part of one of its marketing campaigns called “A helping hand is contagious”.  If you have not had the opportunity to see these commercials on television take a few minutes to view them on Your Tube at this link:     Helpful is often synonymous with courteous and the Liberty Mutual aid proves that the concept of chivalry both gender neutral and trying to make a comeback.  

So how do we teach our young boys to be courteous?  If I may be so bold as to suggest that you use the same tricks that I do as Cubmaster, wrap a lesson in a theme.  Little boys want to be knights of some type whether they are in shining armor or light saber wielding Jedi.  My suggestion let them.  I am in the process of raising three young men ages five, ten, and sixteen.  My oldest was enamored with both afore mentioned types of knights as well as cowboys.  I grabbed onto that.  During bedtime stories (like sitting down to dinner as a family a critical life tool) I enraptured him with tales of cowboys doing good.  Before shutting off the lights we would recite the “Code of the West” which I borrowed from the 1995 Disney movie “Tall Tale” starring Patrick Swayze; “Respect the land, defend the defenseless, and don't never spit in front of women or children”.   Kris always giggled after the “don’t never spit” part.  But it served as an example of courteous behavior and he remembers the code to this day.  

Courteous behavior starts at home!  In my house we have some basic rules for the children which include giving up your seat for an adult at family gatherings; asking for permission to leave the dinner table; again at family gatherings serving the eldest first or your guests when you have them to dinner; talking back or “back talk” is not permitted.  We also have chores which are not optional and do not result in monetary payment of any kind.  These are basic tools for building character.   Our rules are non negotiable.  I get so frustrated when I see parents of any kind, especially parents of Cub Scouts negotiating for good behavior.   If it does not work for the United Nations I have no idea why they think it will work at home.  I recently ran into a mother who is also a child psychiatrist. She developed a theory about raising your children by letting them do anything they want as long as they have been informed that their actions have consequences.  I observed this in action with the Bear aged boy.  When told to go to bed after having been granted an “extension” of bedtime to almost midnight the child threw a tantrum.  The result, he was told he did not have to go to sleep but he would be very tired in the morning when he had to get up to go to school.  Seriously?  On a side note I was horrified at the way that the children in this household spoke to their parents and acted in front of company.  I also noted that the pantry door had a keypad lock.  I guess a tummy ache from eating all of the snack food at the same time was not an acceptable “consequence”.  

I have observed Cub Scouts that will talk back to or ignore their parents while their parents try to placate them.  These same Cubs will not show the same disrespect to the Cubmaster.  Why, because I do not negotiate.  I let them know that if they continue in the behavior I will send them home and the event or activity will be over for them right then.  Their actions will have a consequence, one that carries a lasting impression.  

Our family room has a large L shaped sectional that seats six or seven comfortably.  Two sections have recliners one of which has sort of become my default seat.  If I walk into the room to read or watch TV my children ten and older will ask if I want the seat even if the rest of the sectional is empty.  They do not do this out of fear they do it out of habit, respect, and most importantly, love.

I found a great book which is a valuable resource for raising boys.  Raising a Modern Day Knight:  A Father's Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood by Robert Lewis.  The book is published by Focus on the Family ™ You can pick up the book on Amazon    

Although you may discover several ways to teach you sons and daughters courteous behavior the principle can be summed up in one sentence.  In the Gospel according to Matthew Chapter 7 Verse 12 Christ is quoted as saying; “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets”  We used to learn this in school as the “Golden Rule”; “Do onto other as you would have them do onto you”.  We also used to “Pledge Allegiance” sing “My Country Tis of Thee” and stand for a “Moment of Silence” so each could, according to his or her faith, start the day with a prayer.  Teachers and adults that were not members of our family used to be Mr. or Mrs., Ms. or Miss and a surname.  It taught respect and courtesy.  Learning courtesy starts at home, it used to be reinforced in school, and maybe it still should.  That’s a topic for another day.

Works Cited

Wikipedia, "Chivalry," 15 October 2012. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 17 October 2012].
J. A. Petterchak, Lone Scout: W. D. Boyce and American Boy Scouting, Rochester, Illinois: Legacy Press, 2003.