THE MERIT BADGES OF CIVIC DUTY
I loved Cub Scouts but despised Boy Scouts; perhaps it was the troop I was in, which seemed oriented toward machismo and the pecking order more than it was to skill development. "The Belt
Game" remains a painful memory.
But the mythology of scouting nonetheless advocates being a good scout - a good citizen. It is embedded in the Scout's Oath and Law:
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
The Scout Law is a summary of character issues that scouts pledge to follow.
A Scout tells the truth. He keeps his promises. Honesty is part of his code of conduct. People
can depend on him.
A Scout is true to his family, Scout leaders, friends, school, and nation.
A Scout is concerned about other people. He does things willingly for others without pay or
A Scout is a friend to all. He is a brother to other Scouts. He seeks to understand others. He
respects those with ideas and customs other than his own.
A Scout is polite to everyone regardless of age or position. He knows good manners make it easier for people to get along together.
A Scout understands there is strength in being gentle. He treats others as he wants to be
treated. He does not hurt or kill harmless things without reason.
A Scout follows the rules of his family, school, and troop. He obeys the laws of his community
and country. If he thinks these rules and laws are unfair, he tries to have them changed in an
orderly manner rather than disobey them.
A Scout looks for the bright side of things. He cheerfully does tasks that come his way. He tries
to make others happy.
A Scout works to pay his way and to help others. He saves for unforeseen needs. He protects and conserves natural resources. He carefully uses time and property.
A Scout can face danger even if he is afraid. He has the courage to stand for what he thinks is
right even if others laugh at or threaten him.
A Scout keeps his body and mind fit and clean. He goes around with those who believe in living by these same ideals. He helps keep his home and community clean.
A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs
Do a good turn daily
Though some of these principles are presented in too saccharin a manner for these cosmopolitan
times, on the whole they are not bad guidelines as to the character of a good citizen.
I suspect that if you ask ten different people what makes for good citizenship, you'd get ten
different answers. Many of those answers might be rote repeatings. Good citizenship, I think, is
a value that is expressed in a personal experience, with a positive or negative reaction to one's
actions or inactions.
Ever since I've been conscious of the political process, I've considered it important to be an
active participant. Voting is the least that can be expected: not just the votes "that don't
really count" for our Congresscritters, but voting for school board elections and budgets.
Political involvement and activism includes going to hearings. Writing letters to the editor, and
being prepared to argue a perspective, even if other people don't like to hear it.
For me, giving blood is an act of good citizenship. I initally started doing so to help overcome
my fear of needles, and I have come to recognize other health benefits as well. I came to realize
that it was literally giving of one's self, anonymously, without recognition or reward, going a
little out of one's way to contribute to the abstract notion of "helping others."
I remember standing in long lines with others on September 11, 2001. We didn't know what else to do, but we could to THIS and light a candle against the threatening darkness.
Most recently, I completed a four week, eight-session stint with the county Grand Jury. This is
the second time that I had ever been called upon in my 53 years, and was not previously selected.
A Grandy Jury determines if there is sufficient evidence to forward the case to a trial. They
select twenty-three people; it takes sixteen to make up a quorum, and twelve to indict.
I was pleased to discover that, before selection by lottery, those called can volunteer for
service. I, and fourteen others did so. As I got to experience the personalities of my peers, I
came to believe that this was indeed a representative sampling of the commmunity (for better and for worse), although in this particular group persons of colour were indeed under- represented.
Since in my vocation I routinely facilitate - and mediate - controversial team meetings, a lot of
the proceedings were standard operating procedure as far as I was concerned. It was fascinating
observing the common citizen trying to work things out with co-jurors whom they found frequently annoying, or philosophically WRONG. We handled DWI, narcotic sales, allegations of rape, of robbery, of violation of protection orders, and, certainly most uncomfortably, child pornography.
On this last charge, the application of peer pressure became necessary to Do The Right Thing. Several members declared that they would NOT look at the evidence, and would ABSTAIN from the deliberations. And the evidence WAS mostly vile. But we argued with them, that they had a DUTY. If they did not participate, we could not make a quorum, and someone who (might) need to face criminal charges could walk free (and, based on their taped deposition, would not get the help that they themselves obviously needed). So, SUCK IT UP! we told them. Do your damn duty. And they, and we, did so.
Though a clumsy process, I do believe that this is a valuable check and balance at the gates
between law enforcement and justice. So many peoplle groan upon receiving a jury summons and begin plotting to get out of it. In all our sociopolitical systems, the truth is, they only work
if you participate.
So I claim my merit badges as a voter, a political activist, a blood donor, and a juror. I look
forward to the opportunity to collect more.
What badges have YOU earned? Tell your tale.
(Illustrative thanx to Brother Spryglet!)