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Issue 84 – Mid-September 2006

In my earlier column this month, Tom Hager in the Northern Lights Council asked, “What’s the BSA policy on wearing patches on back of the sash?” and I replied that the INSIGNIA GUIDE is specific about the front of the sash but silent about its back. Well I obviously didn’t read far enough, and a bunch of my readers picked up on it right away! Thanks for reading so diligently and for keeping me honest! Here’s a sampling…

Dear Andy,

In your September column (#80), you wrote that “The BSA INSIGNIA GUIDE is specific regarding the front of a merit badge sash and silent regarding its back.” That’s not actually correct. I’m looking at page 4 of the 2005 Insignia Guide, and under “Excess Insignia” it says, “Members may wear only temporary patches (no badges of rank) on the back of the merit badge sash.” However, the INSIGNIA GUIDE does completely support your position on the 50-miler award, where it’s listed as “equipment decoration,” which allows for it to be on other than a backpack, but it doesn’t allow it to be worn on the uniform. Further, under “Temporary Insignia,” the guide says that any temporary patch “must not exceed the dimension of the seams of the pocket”, and the 50-miler award certainly is bigger than the pocket! (Bart Vashaw, SM, Troop 244)

Dear Andy,

On the question about what goes on the back of the merit badge sash, the INSIGNIA GUIDE is not silent on that. If you look under the topic of excess insignia, it says that temporary badges may be worn on the back of the merit badge sash. Now, I don’t feel that 50 Miler patches and the like count, because these are equipment decoration patches and not temporary insignia, but it’s OK for various Camporee or other event or venue patches. (Michael R. Brown)

Hi Andy,

Re your answer about the merit badge sash, the 2005 edition of the INSIGNIA GUIDE (page 4) in the “Excess Insignia” paragraph, it states: “Members may wear only temporary patches (no badges of rank) on the back of the merit badge sash.” (Dean Whinery, Lone Scout Counselor, BSA Direct Service-México)

Dear Andy,

On wearing patches on back of a merit badge sash, this is something that goes round and round, but the latest (2005) INSIGNIA GUIDE (the one with the tan cover) states that “Members may wear only temporary patches on the back of the merit badge sash.” That works for me! (Dave Loomis, ADC & BS Training Chair, Historic District, Daniel Webster Council, NH)

And two more about sashes…

Hi Andy,

Love your website. I’ve never seen this addressed before, but if there were some really motivated Scouts that wanted to earn 80 or more merit badges, where would they wear them? The merit badge sash has limited room on the front side. Would sewing them on the back of the sash be permissible? (DJA, Greater Cleveland Council, OH)

Merit badges can absolutely be sewn on the back of the sash! That’s perfectly “legal”! Just don’t try making merit badge bandoleers! J

Dear Andy,

In the September issue of “SCOUTING” magazine (page 51), it says that the merit badge sash should never be worn on the belt; however, it doesn’t say what to do with it when you’re wearing the Order of the Arrow sash. What should a Scout do with the MB sash when wearing the OA sash? At a Court of Honor, should the Scout wear the OA sash or the MB sash? Thanks in advance for the response—I’d like to talk about this at our upcoming Roundtable. (Pierre Joubert, DC, Eagle District, Central Florida Council, FL)

Neither the merit badge sash nor the OA sash is to be worn draped over the belt. The merit badge sash is appropriately worn at a Court of Honor, and the OA sash is appropriately worn at an OA meeting or event, or when representing the OA lodge at a non-OA Scouting event. At a Court of Honor, unless it’s for ceremonial purposes (Eagle charge, opening ceremony, or such), a Scout is not representing either the OA or his lodge, and so the OA sash would not be worn at all. But, you ask next, if he’s an OA member, how does he display or convey this and still be correctly uniformed? Simple. If he has an OA lodge patch sewn on the flap of his right uniform shirt pocket, that’s sufficient, and if he doesn’t have a flap, then the universal OA ribbon-and-arrow would be worn suspended from his right pocket button. Done deal! Yup, it’s really that simple!

Hi Andy,

In your September column, Scouter Sandy Hill asked about a new merit badge this year… It could be Composite Materials. The requirements were printed in the annual Boy Scout Requirements 2006 book, but it was April or May before the emblem and the merit badge pamphlet were available.

Also, back in your Mid-July column, Andrew Bromley wrote that he knew he could wear green (Venturing) shoulder loops on a tan shirt. You left that alone, but I can confirm that this is mistaken. If you check the Venturing section of the Insignia Guide, you’ll see that it specifically states that green loops are NOT to be worn with tan.

Finally, your readers may be interested in knowing that the “Timeless Values” graphic that we’ve seen over the past few years will be phased out, replaced with “When Tradition Meets Tomorrow” (a patch and a hiking staff medallion are already available). (Steve Hanson, Manager, Scout Shop, Capitol Area Council, TX)

Thanks, Steve! All good information!

Dear Andy,

I’ve been reading your column for a while now, and have a very quick question for you… Our Cub Scout Pack has a family campout coming up, and there will be a number of adult leaders attending it. So, if a boy who is a Webelos (I or II) wants to go, and his parents can’t make it, can they just drop him off at the event so long as the boy will be sleeping with another boy in their own tent? Following Youth Protection Guidelines, no adult will be in that tent and there will be two-deep leadership throughout the weekend, since more than one leader and a number of parents will be there. (Mark Gould, ACM)

As I read the GTSS book, under “age guidelines,” it seems to be telling me that a Webelos Scout who isn’t accompanied by his own parent or guardian—which is the preferred way—will have a specific, designated, parent-approved adult with him throughout. In short, one-on-one.

That said, if you do decide to approve drop-off situations, the purpose of this camping experience—the further bonding of parent and son—is out the window.

(As an Indian Guide Dad a bunch of years ago, I was conned into this once by a couple of parents who “had other plans” for a Dad-and-Son weekend. Foolishly, I agreed to take on the responsibility for their son as well as my own. The weekend was a pretty sorrowful event for both my own son and me because the bonding that was supposed to happen between us didn’t. Big mistake that I never repeated!)

Dear Andy,

I’m trying to find the old Scoutmaster’s tie. I’ve searched everywhere. Can you help me? (Lenny Kinnear, SM, Troop 6, Staten Island, NY)

Whether tan or olive green (that’s the really, really old one!), these are pretty rare. EBAY is still probably your best bet, outside of trade-o-rees or garage sales.

Dear Andy,

My son was at a troop campout and the weather looked like it might turn bad. The mother of one of the Scouts was planning to be nearby that weekend, and I asked her, in advance, to take my son with her if the weather did turn bad and she decided that she’d remove her own son from the campsite. I told the troop’s Scoutmaster what this other mother and I had arranged. He said the weather wouldn’t get bad. Well, the weather did turn very bad, and so the other mother left her cabin (about two miles from the campsite) and at about 3:30 in the morning took my son and her own back to her cabin. She returned them both to the campsite before 7 that same morning, so they were gone only about three-and-a-half hours.

My son needed this particular night to count for his 20th night of camping, for Camping merit badge. But the Scoutmaster wouldn’t allow that night to count because my son had slept in a cabin for part of the night (Andy’s note: the requirement is “Sleep in a tent you’ve pitched or under the stars…”). I’ve since checked with other Scoutmasters, who have said that they would have counted that night.

When my son and the other Scout were returned to the campsite that morning, the Scoutmaster, the Assistant Scoutmaster, the SM’s wife, and several of the Scouts themselves ridiculed them, calling them “chickens” and “wimps” in front of the other Scouts. It wasn’t their fault! This was their parents’ choice. I’m upset because we weren’t told that my son wouldn’t get this night counted. He really needed this one counted, and now he doesn’t have all his 20 nights for Camping merit badge. Any information about this would be helpful. I don’t know if this is a fair call or if anything can be done. (Texas Scout Mom)

The “overnight or not” thing is a judgment call that can be defended on both sides, and that’s not really what’s important, especially since you, yourself, had given permission to that other mother to have your son removed from the campsite on her judgment alone, in the knowledge that your son needed just one more night to complete his 20. Call it a wash, don’t waste the time or energy picking a fight, and tell your son to camp out in the back yard for one night—Yes, that counts, BUT be sure he tells his Scoutmaster first!

What I’m much more concerned about is the apparent ridicule that happened. Even if reprimand is warranted, it should never be in the form of ridicule and never, ever in public. This is highly un-Scout-like behavior and is tantamount to child emotional abuse, which is a felony in some states.

Bottom line: Your son may be in the wrong troop. Maybe it’s time to check out others in the area. Let your son explore other possibilities, and even if he doesn’t have instant friends in a new troop don’t worry, because in the right kind of troop, friendships will happen fast!

Dear Andy,

Regarding the question about the Air Scout Ace Award and the Explorer GOLD Award, Scouters can also learn about these programs and their awards by checking out my site devoted to the history of the BSA’s senior programs at http://www.geocities.com/Yosemite/Falls/8826/ (my site also includes information on Varsity Scouting).

You might like to know that the Explorer GOLD award lives on as the Venturing Gold Award—the requirements for these two awards are identical, except that the current Venturing Gold requires earning one of the Venturing Bronze awards.

I would also like to mention that there are no “Venture Scouts” in the BSA. While that designation is used in some Scout associations on other countries, in the BSA they’re Venturers. (Michael R. Brown)

Thanks, Mike – It’s always good to hear from you!

Dear Andy,

I think I read somewhere that camouflage clothing is not to be used as part of the BSA uniform. I thought it was in the uniform manual, but I can’t locate it there. Please let me know if I’m off on this, or where did I read it . (Ed Logsdon, UC, Lincoln Heritage Council, Louisville, KY)

The BSA policy that uniforms may not resemble military uniforms is stated in the front pages of the INSIGNIA GUIDE (any edition). That’s step one. Step two is this: Since the US Army and National Guard now wear camouflage cloth for their formal uniform, this would not to be worn by Scouts/Scouters because that would violate the stated policy regarding military uniforms. Taking it a step further (understand that from here on out this is my own view on the matter), the only other people who wear camouflage are hunters (bow or firearm), for the purpose of taking game (i.e., killing animals), and there is nothing in Scouting that involves the killing of animals (nope, not even Fishing merit badge, if you read the requirements carefully).

Dear Andy,

I’m told that a Wood Badge scarf (already earned) can only be worn at certain events. If this is so, what are they, and what are the rules for wearing the “Troop 1” scarf? Also, on the uniform inspection form they specify “council patch” for the shoulder area. What if an FOS patch has the council name on it? Can this be worn on the shoulder instead? How technical are the rules? (Connie Mangano, ASM, Theodore Roosevelt Council, NY)

I don’t know who misinformed you about the Wood Badge neckerchief (the Brits call them scarves—we Americans call them neckerchiefs), but these can certainly be worn, along with woggle and beads, any time you’re in uniform! And, if you decide not to wear the neckerchief and woggle, the beads (the actual “wood badge”) can ALWAYS be worn with your uniform.

About CSPs, any arc-topped, straight-bottomed patch naming your council is a legitimate council shoulder patch, and you can wear the one you like, so long as its arc-shaped top matches the shoulder seam on your uniform shirt.

Dear Andy,

I was at a council function a few months ago and I saw and adult wearing the Den Chief Service Award. Even if he legitimately earned it as a youth, is that “legal”? (Chuck Jewell, CC, Troop, Team, and Crew 695, Alamo Area Council, San Antonio, TX)

No, it’s not “legal”—It’s a BOY recognition; not an adult recognition. The only youth-level recognitions that have badges an adult can wear are the square knots. That said, I’ll also advise you to leave it alone or risk getting known as yet another obnoxious member of the infamous “patch police.”

Dear Andy,

I’m the Wolf Den Leader for our Pack. I have six Cubs, all of whom will be continuing from last year. We recently had a great School Night for Scouting and I expect that two more boys will join this year, coming straight into my Den as second-graders. They have, however, a younger buddy who’s in first grade and is five years old. The problem is that this first grader only wants to join if he can be with his buddies—that is, as a Wolf, despite the fact that his peers (by grade and age) will all be Tigers. Clearly, he qualifies to join the Pack, as he’s in first grade, but is there hard and fast guidance into which Den he must go?

There’s some sentiment among our leaders to “see how it works out,” but I’m skeptical. Meanwhile, this boy’s parents are playing the “if he can’t join with his buddies, then he won’t join at all” card. What do you think? (John Woughter, Pack 56, Transatlantic Council, Bonn, Germany)

Unlike Boy Scouts, which has the same program for all boys and young men from age 11 up until their 18th birthday, or Venturing for young people of both genders from age 14 up to 21, Cub Scouting (including Tiger Cubs and Webelos Scouts) is absolutely age-specific. A first-grader is in Tiger Cubs, a second-grader is Wolf, third grade is Bear, and fourth through halfway through fifth grade is Webelos. This is because all of the activities, advancement opportunities, and learnings have been designed for each specific age and grade. So, buddies or no buddies, a first grader is a Tiger Cub. Period. If his parents can’t or won’t appreciate how the program is designed, well then I’m sorry for their son and shame on them, but no amount of pouting or threats on their part will change a thing. And, this is not a matter of opinion or a subject open to discussion—This is the way the program was designed to run, some 75 plus years ago, and that’s the way it is. You have not only the right but the actual obligation to not only Cub Scouting in general but the boys in your Den specifically to stand absolutely and resolutely firm on this.

Dear Andy,

I’m trying to get some information on how to start a Boy Scout troop where I live. We do have a troop here, here but my kid tells me that not a lot of boys join up with it because the troop hardly ever meets or does anything. Can you tell me what to do to start a new troop? My son is eleven right now, and my brother and brother-in-law are both interested in helping me. (Reynaldo Reyes, Grand Forks AFB, ND)

Boy Scout troops don’t “just happen.” There are a whole bunch of things that need to be done not only to get started but to make sure the troop is successful over the long haul. So, let’s start with the basics: Grand Forks is in the Lake Agassiz District of the Northern Lights Boy Scout Council (http://www.nlcbsa.org/). They have a district service center right in Grand Forks, and the phone number there is (701) 775-3189. Call them up and ask to speak with the District Executive (this is a salaried professional Scouter who knows a great deal about starting and maintaining Boy Scout troops). Tell the District Executive just what you’ve told me, and then set up an appointment to meet personally. While you’re at that service center, buy yourself a copy of the Scoutmaster Handbook, and start reading. Between your son and his friends (and their parents), plus your brother and brother-in-law, and yourself, I’m sure you’ll succeed!

That said, I should mention that there seem to be a couple of active Scout troops that aren’t on your base, but that you may want to check out anyway: Troop 13 at Holy Family RC Church and Troop 16 at the United Methodist Church. Do go visit them, too—You and your son might be pleasantly surprised!

Dear Andy,

My grandson is an Eagle Scout candidate with all requirements completed. My question is this: Who picks the members of an Eagle rank Board of Review? I understand that the district provides one member. My concern is that the Chartered Organization Representative for this troop is clearly biased against my grandson, and we don’t want him on the BoR. Does his mother or I have any say as to who is or isn’t on his Eagle BoR? What options do we have? Thanks! (Gerald Mounce, Tomball, TX)

First off, congratulations to your grandson! That’s terrific! Eagle Boards of Review are comprised of no less than three and no more than six adults who understand the significance of this advancement (they do NOT need to be registered members of the BSA!); however, one will in fact be a registered representative of the district/council (typically a member of the district advancement committee). Parents do not attend; Scoutmasters may observe but have no speaking part with regard to the Eagle candidate, and no vote. As with all BoRs, the “vote” on conclusion of the review must be unanimous—It is one of the jobs of the chair of the BoR to be certain that this is so. The review may be chaired by any member of it; it is not “automatically” the role of any particular person.

I’ve sat on enough BoRs to see parents and sometimes the candidate himself request specific people—The town’s mayor (whom they and their son knew personally), the head of the sponsoring organization (quite common!), the principal of the candidate’s school, the candidate’s religious leader, a Scouter of significant repute, and so on. There’s nothing untoward about you or your grandson’s mother expressing preferences here.

The expected outcome of a Board of Review for any rank is that the rank will be confirmed. Consequently, I once did have to ask a potential member of the review to not participate, because he admitted beforehand that he held a prejudice toward the candidate. Yes, he did reluctantly accept this request on my part (I was representing the council at the time), because he understood that one cannot sit on such a review with “unclean hands,” if you will.

The reason why the expected result of a review is confirmation of the rank is that all of the requirements have already been completed, and the Scoutmaster has already confirmed that the Scout is ready for the rank by way of his having signed that the Scoutmaster’s Conference has been successfully completed (remember that the SM’s Conference is always the last requirement to be completed).

Unless the local district or council holds district- or council-level reviews for Eagle, it is up to the Troop’s adults—most typically the advancement chair; sometimes the committee chair—to invite the people who will sit on the review. The reason for a representative of the district/council to attend is to assure the candidate that he will be treated fairly, with dignity, and with the very best of intentions consistent with other such reviews throughout the council. It is actually fairly unusual for a COR to be a review member, because this position is not one that involves regular contact with the Troop or its members (unless the COR is “double-registered” and is also, perhaps, a member of the Troop’s committee, which does happen sometimes). But, in fact, it’s actually not a requirement that any member of the Troop’s committee be a member of an Eagle review (see above).

Definitely attend the BoR with your grandson. No, you won’t be admitted into the room, but you’ll have the opportunity to see (or to ask) who the members of the BoR will be. If you observe a “problematic individual,” you certainly have the right to speak with the district or council representative before the review begins, to express you concern in no uncertain terms.

Hi Andy,

You were a huge help to me last year—I’ve been reading your columns ever since, and I’m in need of a little more sage advice…

First… Our troop has a policy in place that the ASM’s may have a vote on the troop committee. This happened a few years back when one of our ASMs got upset about not having a vote, and walked out on the meeting. At that point, we felt that we needed every hand we had, and since some of our adults, even though registered as ASMs, took on committee positions. So, could it be acceptable to have this crossover, so long as the ASM also completes Committee Challenge training, so as to understand the workings of the Committee and the necessities of the group’s work within the troop? I say this because there seems to be an overlap in the other direction, such as even though the Scoutmaster and assistants are responsible for program and “working with the boys,” the Troop Committee Guide Book clearly outlines a couple of positions that require committee people to work with boys (for instance, the troop equipment coordinator “works with the Quartermaster to maintain, care for and store troop equipment,” and the Scribe should be trained and overseen by the troop treasurer). So in the case of a troop where you’ve got willing adults who want to do things that seem to “conflict” how do you separate it out without ruffling feathers?

My second question is about Youth Protection. Guidelines clearly state that there’s always two-deep leadership. When you are traveling a far distance in a car (say 2+ hours), I’ve been told that in order to fulfill the “two-deep” guideline, if two adults can’t be physically in one car, then there should be two vehicles traveling together that are within view of each other: this maintains two-deep adults without making a “caravan,” which can be dangerous. Well, on a weekend outing recently, it was discovered that there was only one driver who would be leaving at a specific time. Other leaders were already at the location two driving hours away, and another vehicle with two adults would be departing on the following day. Upon making this discovery, I contacted the solo driver to let him know that this wasn’t in accordance with Youth Protection and asked him if he could depart the following day with the other vehicle, but he said that he couldn’t—he had to leave that night. The catch here was that the child that he would have in his car besides his own was my son, so in order for me not to make a huge scene, I gave him permission to transport my son without another leader with him on the drive. I stated that we would need to discuss later that every outing must have two-deep at all times, including during long road trips. Apparently I’m in hot water for this. What’s the rule? Thank you. (Carole Firth, Moraine Trails Council, PA)

First situation: It seems pretty obvious that you’re dealing with an ASM (or two) who hasn’t gone to training, or doesn’t remember what he was supposed to have learned. Registered ASMs are…ASMs. If they want to be committee members instead, then they need to change their registration designation. Yup, it’s that simple. They can’t have it both ways, and that’s a good thing. Besides, they have no need to “vote” (if voting is even necessary, which in most cases it isn’t in order to get the job done), because their job is troop program- and training-related; not support of the unit program. The one you’re describing sounds like some sort of petulant child, and we do know how parents should handle these, yes? If feathers get ruffled, tough. Feathers are to straighten up and fly right.

As for the arguments about the scribe-treasurer and the quartermaster-equipment supervisor is a stretch, at best, baloney at worst, and I’m guessing you know it! If the other adults haven’t figured out that this is a pretty lame justification, well, time to go back to training.

As to your question about youth protection and two-deep leadership while driving to a unit event, here’s the BSA policy on automotive transporting: “If you cannot provide two adults for each vehicle, the minimum required is one adult and two or more youth members—never one on one.” Based on this, you and the driver of your son and his own made the correct decision under the circumstances. Yes, two-deep adult leadership is always preferred; however, the BSA is not so hidebound as to not provide a reasonable alternative when specific circumstance make this impossible or impractical. For further insights in YP, I recommend that you consult with your home district’s youth protection training facilitator.

Dear Andy,

Our troop committee is seeking to remove a member who is seen by some as uncooperative. This committee member hasn’t violated a BSA policy, but consistently asks the committee to join in council initiatives, support FOS, and sell popcorn, and also encourages the Scoutmaster and assistants to attend training (right now, none has completed the training for his position and several haven’t completed Youth Protection training). Except for the member our committee wants to expel, none has completed training of any kind, although most are Youth Protection trained. All these requests are seen as counter-productive to the progress of the troop. You may have guessed that the head on the chopping block is mine. I’ve been on the committee for six years and in most of this time I’ve been the lone voice for the BSA “rulebook.” For a short while, we had a Committee Chair who tried to right the ship, but she was intimidated off the committee in a very unceremonious way during a troop committee meeting attended by our Unit Commissioner. I’d like to stand stronger, because I feel this is the only hope for our troop in the long run. Our chartered organization is completely hands-off, and at times the relationship between the church and the troop has been quite strained. I’ve reviewed the Troop Committee Guidebook and didn’t find any information about the procedure for an impeachment. What are the steps that should be followed before I can be formally excluded from the committee? (Rochelle Ray, MC & District Finance Chair, Hassanamisco District, Mohegan Council, MA)

Instead of giving you the answer you want, I’m going to give you the answer you need…

A misguided or corrupt or off-True-North organization or group absolutely, positively cannot be changed from the inside. Attempting to do this will only lead, as it has in your case, to frustration, animosity, rancor, and retaliation by the corrupters. My admonition: STOP.

Insanity is often described as doing the same thing again and again, but expecting different results. My admonition: STOP.

Mark Twain said it best: “Don’t try to teach a pig to fly. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.”

Unless you are the chair of the troop committee (which is not likely to happen in your lifetime) and you and the Scoutmaster share precisely the same vision for the troop, defeat is certain.

Von Clausewitz, who wrote a seminal manual for doing battle said it this way: Unless success is a certainty, do not engage the enemy.

Churchill defined the difference between the enemy and the opposition in Parliament: “The opposition sits across from you; the enemy sits behind you.”

Are you getting this? Good, because if you want to be happy in your Scouting volunteer position—and I certainly hope you do—then you need to find a place in Scouting (perhaps as a trainer) where you can accomplish things with people of like mind and vision.

NetCommish Comment: In the course of many years of service as a Commissioner at many levels, I’ve seen far too many cases where wonderful and dedicated people serving in the same unit, committee, district, etc., have come to differences in how their visions of Scouting are to be executed. Usually a very dedicated and good individual feels strongly that he/she is trying to stand for rules or policies that seem to be pretty clear. And just as often the group feels they are doing pretty well and the individual is making things unnecessarily difficult. Taken individually, each person is a great individual, dedicated to Scouting, and trying to do the best they know how. Communications break down, tempers flair, differences become difficult to resolve, or other symptoms of a real problem show up. The harder any of them try to get acceptance of their views the more polarized the problem becomes.

When it gets to this point, the situation is extremely hard to resolve and in most cases it is best for the person or persons in the minority to think about other ways or places where they can do more good and have a more enjoyable experience. Continuing to fight when things have reached the pass where a vote is about to be taken to exclude a person only prolongs the agony and rarely produces any results that are helpful to anyone. It is probably time to make an exit and start on new projects.

Making an exit is not a cause for shame. It can be a show of strength of character where we realize that we need to work where our strengths are better matched to the tasks at hand. And the manner of exit should be with grace and without rancor. Don’t burn bridges, fling the last insult, try to get in the last word, or any of that. Instead find ways to recognize progress and thank the folks for the opportunity to serve. This may help prevent the old problems from following the departing person.

While this situation does not inspire much hope, I also want to talk to units and commissioners that are seeing the start of conflict and give some tools that can help prevent more disasters.

When folks are excited about getting something done and have more enthusiasm than training, it is easy for conflict to develop. Disagreements can crop up. Usually good natured people will easily resolve these differences. But sometimes a conflict is harder to resolve for many reasons. In the early stages of conflict before the differences are too polarized, there are some conflict resolution principles that can help any group. The following approaches when used may help diffuse a problem and make resolution easier.

1. Think Before Reacting

The tendency in a conflict situation is to react immediately. After all, if we do not react we may lose our opportunity. In order to resolve conflict successfully it is important to think before we react–consider the options, weigh the possibilities. The same reaction is not appropriate for every conflict.

2. Listen Actively

Listening is the most important part of communication. If we do not hear what the other parties are communicating we can not resolve a conflict. Active listening means not only listening to what another person is saying with words, but also to what is said by intonation and body language. The active listening process also involves letting the speaker know that he or she has been heard. For example, “What I heard you say is……”

3. Assure a Fair Process

The process for resolving a conflict is often as critical as the conflict itself. It is important to assure that the resolution method chosen as well as the process for affecting that method is fair to all parties to the conflict. Even the perception of unfairness can destroy the resolution.

4. Attack the Problem

Conflict is very emotional. When emotions are high it is much easier to begin attacking the person on the other side than it is to solve the problem. The only way conflicts get resolved is when we attack the problem and not each other. What is the problem that lies behind the emotion? What are the causes instead of the symptoms?

5. Accept Responsibility

Every conflict has may sides and there is enough responsibility for everyone. Attempting to place blame only creates resentment and anger that heightens any existing conflict. In order to resolve a conflict we must accept our share of the responsibility and eliminate the concept of blame.

6. Use Direct Communication

Say what we mean and mean what we say. Avoid hiding the ball by talking around a problem. The best way to accomplish this is to use “I-Messages”. With an “I-Message” we express our own wants, needs or concerns to the listener. “I-Messages” are clear and non-threatening way of telling others what we want and how we feel. A “you-message” blames or criticizes the listener. It suggests that she or he is at fault.

7. Look for Interests

Positions are usually easy to understand because we are taught to verbalize what we want. However, if we are going to resolve conflict successfully we must uncover why we want something and what is really important about the issue in conflict. Remember to look for the true interests of the all the parties to the conflict.

8. Focus on the Future

In order to understand the conflict, it is important to understand the dynamics of the relationship including the history of the relationship. However, in order to resolve the conflict we must focus on the future. What do we want to do differently tomorrow?

9. Options for Mutual Gain

Look for ways to assure that we are all better off tomorrow than we are today. Our gain at the expense of someone else only prolongs conflict and prevents resolution.

Dear Andy,

The wife of one of our three Scoutmasters (I know we should only have one Scoutmaster—that’s another story), who is our troop committee’s membership chair, is using Cub Scout methods in our troop meetings. For instance, she organizes merit badge clinics during troop meetings, and has been especially attentive to the boys from her old Den. Recently, she’s asked to be our next advancement chair, when the current chair steps down (this will be very soon). Some of us on the committee think this is a BAD idea. How do we convince others on the committee this will not be good? This Mom hovers over every meeting, busying herself with details. She also has made lists of Scouts to be the Master of Ceremonies for Courts of Honor, Campfires, etc, for the Communications Merit Badge, and some of us are suspicious of her lists (My own son was given a date, only to be told later that he wasn’t on the list). While her time, energy, and willingness is “appreciated” (for lack of a better word), we have other positions in our committee that need filling, and no other person is currently stepping forward for the advancement role. Parental input is lacking, and since the committee chair’s son directly benefits from this particular Mom’s actions (he was in her Den), he’s reluctant to refuse her anything. Advice? (Name Withheld)

With three Scoutmasters, an adult who discriminates between Scouts in the troop, and an “advancement” session within troop meetings (none of the seven parts of a standard troop meeting includes what you’ve described to me), a wishy-washy committee chair, and a spineless committee, I think you’ve got a lot more to worry about than some ScoutMomzilla!

And the “three Scoutmasters” situation isn’t “another story”—It’s part of the same story!

What you’re talking about seems somehow like re-arranging the deck chairs while the ship’s band is playing “Nearer, my God, to Thee”! If you get my drift…

OK, that said, here’s what I’d suggest doing, because there’s quite a bit that needs attention before you can consider this troop re-aimed at True North. First, contact your district and ask for an experienced (and very diplomatic!) Unit Commissioner. Then, when you have one, take him or her through the whole thing, including what you’re getting right as well as what needs mending. Your UC will make suggestions based on first-hand knowledge of your troop and its adults, and it will be up to all of the troop’s adult volunteers to follow those suggestions. Your UC will continue to help you find solutions and work through your difficulties (remember, UCs aren’t “council cops”—They’re Scouting’s diplomats and ambassadors), and then your UC will stay with you to help you make sure you stay on-course.

Dear Andy,

Do you know if and how I might be able to find out if I once earned the Arrow of Light award? I bridged over from Cubs to Boy Scouts around 1975 and have few recollections from my Cub Scout days (the boys in my den do get a kick when I tell them one of my most vivid memories from Cub Scouts, namely my frustration of getting beat at the Pinewood Derby by a boy who took the car out of the box on the day of the derby, put the wheels on, added weights to get 5 ounces, and won!). I respect adults who have earned square knots and choose not to wear them, but I think they help to tell a personal history to other Scouters or Scouts when one wears the knots. I don’t want to wear something I don’t deserve or haven’t earned, and I’m thinking that if there were a data base somewhere, I could check. I have all my Scout stuff (that is, from when I was a Scout) in long-term storage (that I can’t access) so perhaps I’ll just have to wait and see if I find a patch there.

I have the same question about the youth religious emblem. I can recall working on it with my pastor at church, but just can’t remember if I finished it or not. I do recall that I didn’t get a patch (the knot) but do recall working on a religious program that had a medal awarded at the completion.

Also, I’m sure there’s a discussion in one of your columns that talks about OA membership and age. I have a bunch of new boys who will qualify for the OA when the troop gets to voting next spring (First Class, 15 days camping, etc.), but some of our committee members have an opinion that the OA is “for older boys” and that they “won’t appreciate the OA” if elected early. My thought is to present the OA as it is, give the Scouts the criteria, and let them vote, and if a twelve year old who qualifies gets elected, then so be it! I see the OA election as an opportunity to create value. Adding the artificial extra criterion of age (or anything else!) would be a shame. Your thoughts? (John, Bonn, Germany)

Nope, neither packs nor councils kept or keep Cub Scout advancement records, so I’d say your best bet is simply Scout’s Honor. If your memory, to the best of your recollection, tells you that you earned the Arrow of Light, then you did, simple as that. Same with the religious award you earned. You do remember this, and so Scout’s Honor has surely been satisfied. If you’re comfortable, then definitely wear the appropriate square knots for both of these.

Not too unlike the military, we Scouters like to check out what’s over the left pocket, so we can get at least a preliminary idea of the kind of guy or gal we’re meeting for the first time. Of course, the proof of the pudding’s always in the tasting!

On OA qualifications and elections, you’re absolutely, positively right. Nobody has the authority to insert some arbitrary additional stipulation to the criteria. That said, the next argument you’re going to hear is that “OA elections are just popularity contests.” Guess what? That’s absolutely correct… Scouts who smile, who help others, show up at meetings and campouts, and are all-around good guys are popular!

Thanks for what you and everyone on your base is doing for Scouting, for our country, and for the world! May God bless you all every day.

Dear Andy,

My son is going to change from one troop to another. Is it possible for a Scout to be in two troops at once? Or do you definitely have to be registered in one or the other. I’m asking because he’s about halfway through Personal Fitness, Family Life, and Citizenship in the Nation, and has just one more requirement to go, to complete Citizen in the Community and Aviation, and I’m thinking that he could finish up these merit badges in this present troop and move to another troop in the spring, after these are done. (Alice Wilson)

No, a boy doesn’t register in two troops at the same time. Period. But I truly don’t understand your son’s merit badge problem. Merit badges are earned with registered Merit Badge Counselors, and have nothing whatsoever to do with specific troops. When he finishes whatever merit badge he’s working on, he simply gives the two sections of the “blue card” to his Scoutmaster for recording, regardless of what troop he’s in.

Dear Andy,

I found you purely by accident and boy am I glad I did! What a GREAT column! I’m a new troop committee chair. I’ve had both Scoutmaster and Committee Challenge training. In looking over our Troop’s Bylaws, I discovered that a previous committee had made the Scoutmaster position a committee-level position (You know, with a “vote”). From my training, I understand that this is not appropriate, due to potential conflicts of interest. I had a great discussion about this subject with my trainer at Committee Challenge, but the problem isn’t with me—It’s with the Scoutmaster, who refuses to “give up” his “seat” on the committee, because, if he does, he’ll lose his influence over decision making.

Both the current and past trained Scoutmasters as well as a number of committee members (who don’t have the benefit of training) are going with their personal feelings on the issue, and consider the committee composition as prescribed in the BSA training books as “just a guide” and not hard-and-fast stipulations. I’m simply trying to make sure we’re operating the way BSA wants us to.

We all have a great working relationship in our troop and I don’t want to upset anyone, but I feel we need to get this fixed. So is it a hard-and-fast rule and if so, how can I phrase to the Scoutmaster (and the rest of the committee) that it’s not appropriate for the Scoutmaster to be a member of the committee? (Adam Smith, CC, Orange County Council, Mission Viejo, CA)

If the stuff the BSA publishes on how Troops are to be organized, what kind of Scouting program is to be provided, how rank advancement works, and so on were all “suggestions” or “guidelines,” and Troops could simply do as they pleased, I’ll guarantee you that we’d soon wind up with at least one Troop where the Scouts all wear tutus, brandish bayonets, and shout, “Death to all Martians!” In other words, if these well-meaning but uninformed folks in your troop are treating BSA descriptions of how Troops are to be organized as “just a guide,” they probably just don’t “get it.” And probably never will. The Scoutmaster, meanwhile, must be one big control freak, or totally insecure, that he thinks he needs to be a committee member, too. Have him take a look at his BSA registration card. Does it say Scoutmaster, or does it say committee member? Whatever it says, that’s his job, and that’s it. If he still doesn’t get it, let him live with his paranoia.

That said, if the troop is delivering the correct Scouting program to the Scouts—You know, stuff like elected leaders, The Patrol Method, outdoor activities at least once a month, going to Camporees and Scout summer camp, advancement in accordance with BSA policies, and so on—then I probably wouldn’t worry about this little bit of stupid stuff.

When YOU are Scoutmaster or Committee Chair some day, then change this silly glitch; until then, grin and bear it if it’s not affecting a quality Scouting program for the boys.

Hi Andy,

We just got back from a Cub Scout information session and registered our first-grader as a Tiger. There were enough new Tigers that two new dens were formed. In the den our son is in, it didn’t take long for one father to volunteer to be Assistant Den Leader, but then came the stalemate. About ten minutes passed and everyone was exchanging looks, and no one would step up to be Den Leader. Now my husband is not one to sit around and waste time so he sucked up and volunteered. My question is, once a Den Leader, always a Den Leader? Or is it a year-long commitment, and then if you want to step down then you can? (New Cub Family in Austin, TX)

Well, congratulations to both your son and your husband for getting into Tiger Cubs! He didn’t “suck up”—He did what needed to be done and I’ll tell you from personal experience that the adventures he’ll be sharing with his son and yours will be worth every minute of “work”!

Your husband needs to immediately link up with that other Dad who said he’d be an assistant, and go get some training together, as a team. Your local council can give you training dates; heck, they’re probably right on the council website! GO FOR IT! It’ll be the best “time investment” you’ll ever make! No, this isn’t a “life-long commitment.” But to make sure that it’s not, your husband needs to make sure every parent in the Den is told that this is a one-year commitment and that, next year, when the boys become full-fledged Wolf Cub Scouts, someone else will want to step up and be the Den Leader.

That said, if your husband decides that he’s sorta “hooked” on Scouting and wants to continue, don’t stop him… There’s nothing he’ll ever do with his clothes on that’s more fun than Scouting with his son!

Dear Andy,

My son and I have just taken a hunter safety course given by the State of Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The instructor has been qualified by the state to teach the course, and has been doing it for 17 years. He’s also qualified and teaches shotgun shooting to adults and children. I’d like to know what the requirements are for him to be certified teach the Shotgun Merit Badge (and possibly the Rifle Merit Badge, too). (Dwayne E. Davis, ASM, Troop 1, Colonial Trails District, Colonial Virginia Council, Suffolk, VA)

That’s a good question and it has a simple answer: All that this fine gentleman need do is register with your council as a Merit Badge Counselor for any of the ones he believes he’s qualified for and would like to do with Scouts! For Merit Badge Counselors, there’s usually a pretty straightforward application process and there’s never an annual fee for MBCs.

Dear Andy,

I came across your column while searching for answers to questions that I can’t get a straight answer on. As a Camping Merit Badge Counselor, I’ve been asked if Scouts can count nights camping during non-scout functions, such as with family or their church group outings, as meeting part of the camping merit badge requirement. My opinion seems to differ from that of some of the parents, so I look forward to your thoughts. (Bob Zink)

Take a good look at requirement 9.(a) and you’ll notice that there’s nothing that says a Scout’s 20 days and 20 nights must all be patrol- or troop-related, or even Scouting-related. So, Yes, days and nights camping with other groups certainly do count, so long as the rest of the wording of the requirement is met (which means, of course, that “cabin camping,” for instance, doesn’t count—even if with a patrol or troop!).

Dear Andy,

I’ve just read your September column, and I’m very impressed. One question was from a troop in Indiana that wanted a backpacking trek in the mountains. Your advice was great as always, and I’d like to let them know that the South Plains Council (Lubbock, TX) has a program that might be just what they’re looking for – It’s called Pecos Packers, and features a week-long trek through the mountains of the Carson National Forest, just a few miles away from Philmont. Information is available at the council service center (30 Briercroft Park, Lubbock, TX 79412) and at www.southplainscouncil.org/SummerCamps.htm (Dennis Fairbairn)

Happy Scouting!

Andy

Got a question? Send it to me atAskAndyBSA@yahoo.com.
(Please include your Council name and home state)

(Mid-September 2006 – Copyright © 2006 Andy McCommish)

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About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

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