Reflections of an Eagle Scout

The Boy Scouts of America taught me valuable life lessons, like how to light things on fire and swear. I also learned how to tie knots, and by “knots” I mean exactly one knot and I only remember how to tie it around my waist. (Something about how the rope is a rabbit that comes up and around a tree?) The good old fashioned “granny knot” works every time.

One time at Scout Camp at Camp Helendade (affectionately called “Camp Hell”) I went into hypothermia when the swim instructors insisted we swim in an ice cold pool at sundown. Hypothermia, like explosive diarrhea, is an unfortunate thing to have, especial when you are 13 and far away from the comforts of your home. Also, I find outhouses repulsive and vomit inducing, and during my 6 day stay at Camp Hell I refused to go to the bathroom for 4 days. It’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it!

The scene of the hypothermia crime.

I was lucky to have a Scoutmaster who took his position seriously by keeping the troop active and earning merit badges. Thanks to him I was prepared to complete my Eagle Project by the time I was 14.

For most active Mormon families, the scouting program is a part of life. Some parents threaten their sons by forbidding a drivers license at age 16 unless he has earned the rank of Eagle. (My mom pulled that with me, although I’m certain she was bluffing.) Parents and religious leaders perpetuate the myth that the rank of Eagle Scout will give you an edge in the business world because, “if two people apply for the same job and one of those people is an Eagle Scout and the other one isn’t, the employer will hire the Eagle Scout.”

Yeah right.

There was little I liked about scouting. I didn’t like “roughing it” because that usually involved an outhouse, and I didn’t like the crude and vulgar jokes about farting, pooping and other bodily functions. And I especially didn’t like the dominating “Priesthood Authority” that permeated every aspect of the scouting program. Every campout included a testimony meeting where the half dozen or so 12 year old boys were required to stand around the campfire and testify about how we “knew the Church was true.” As an adult I consider this inappropriate and manipulative.

For my Eagle Project I planned, produced, directed, hosted and performed in a variety show at a retirement home. An Eagle Scout project should be about service to the community as well as an extension of your interests and talents to demonstrate leadership skills, not necessarily a construction or hard labor project because “that’s what an Eagle project should be.”

I had to write a thorough proposal outlining the project, the benefit to the community, the planning details, and then pitch the idea. The project had to then go through 4 levels of approval. The final approval had to come from a man on the Council Advancement Committee, Brother Alan Larson.

My mom drove me to the Stake Center to meet with Brother Larson. Not a single wrinkle could be see on my tan shirt. The forrest green pants had a crease so sharp it could cut down a tree (which could then be used to build a shelter) and a sash of merit badges, 8 rows of 3, covered my chest.

Brother Larson’s booming voice told me to leave the office door open. I sat down in a folding chair across his huge, polished oak desk. He crossed his arms over his chest then leaned forward and flipped through my proposal with the same enthusiasm as a lazy student reading a math book. He stared at me with a look of boredom as I told him about my project, then he interrupted me and asked in a condescending voice, “So, is this project like a road show?”

I had no idea what he meant. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, roadshows in the Mormon Church were common, where latent thespians produced a stage show and took it on the road around town. The Church pulled the plug on that program long before I was ever old enough to know about it. I didn’t know how to answer his question because I had no frame of reference.

I answered him honestly, “I don’t think so.”

I was not used to adults, especially adults from my church, speaking to me with such contempt. Up to that point every adult who knew about the project thought it was a great idea. Brother Larson, a man who was supposed to be a shining example of Christ-like love offered no warmth or encouragement and instead spoke with the harshness of a bully.

He sighed in a disgruntled post office worker kind of way and said, “I’m going to sign off on this, but I’m going to be honest, I don’t think it’s a very good project.”

I felt like he spit on my merit badges and there was nothing I could but sit there.

Patriarchal, condescending, pious and bristly, he is not the rule of what a Mormon man in a position of authority is like, but he’s not the exception either.

I never saw him again after that interview.

A few weeks later I completed my Eagle Scout Project at the Crown Point Retirement Center in Corona. While the project only lasted 2.5 hours and didn’t involved farting or manual labor the necessary prep-work I had to do was no small task. Those skills of networking, planning, and creative thinking have served me well in my life. My Eagle Project was not typical but it was awesome and I did it without much support from the “higher ups.” I stayed true to my vision and my plan and did the kind of project I wanted to do, not what some other manĀ  told me I should. Being true to myself and my vision was the real lesson.


A young me turning the pages during the "Fiddle Medley"

Montessori of Corona Ensemble played a few numbers

Some of the happy guests who appreciate the arts!

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  • Hawk
    April 11, 2011

    Ran across your post looking for theater based merit badge ideas. I have to be honest, I read your entire post, and feel pretty bad for you. I had hoped to be reading about how your experiences made you a stronger and better person. Instead the general feeling conveyed was nothing more than a complaints and anger about every aspect of your scouting and church experience.

    Maybe its the way I was raised, but my view is that driving at 15 or 16 is not a right, but a privilege that should be earned. I don’t meaned earned by simply completing a rank or some merit badges, but earned through the trust, disipline, etc. that could be learned and displayed on the road to earning one’s Eagle rank. As a much older adult, I now see how much trust my parents in me to allow me as a teenager to use their vehicle, drive other youth, including my own siblings, while also tied to their insurance, but as a teenager, I probably had the same view as you, many years later, I’ve come to my own decision my youthful view was wrong.

    I’ve been apart of scouting for many years, and personally it’s provided a great weath of training and knowledge I have used many of these skills during several community service based trips I have made to other countries, an outhouse is a blessings compared to nothing more than a hole in the floor of other countries I’ve gone to. Granted this is not to say that others would or could sacrifice these modern convinences for a greater good. I knew a few guys that would not shower for weeks while we were helping in south america because their was no hot water.

    Its just my two cents, but I would have found you to be a better writter, had you focused more on how the other 3 levels of approval supported you and even though the 4th level did not completley buy into your idea, he still let you run with it. An Eagle scout project is supposed to prepare you for life and part of life is not obtaining the approval or buy in from every idea you present.

    I am a big fan of the Matrix movie series. The first movie, IMHO, was awsome and presented a lot of new ideas and technologies onto the big screen. However when the ideas were first pitched to the execs, there was a lot of fear and skeptisism about its success. After the success of the first movie, execs were onboard and dumped tons of money into the subsequent movies.

    I’m glad that you found a project you believed in, and followed through with it till the end. Its a bit sad to see, that you seemed to be focused with such negativity and anger on the 1% that ruined it for you than the positive 99% that were supportive and helpful. It would have been awesome to hear how your project blessed the lives of those involved, both in putting it on and recieving the service.

    • Seth Anderson
      April 11, 2011

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, I do appreciate it. There are just a few points I wanted to reply to.

      No need to feel bad for me. I’m not angry or resentful to the scouting program, in fact I hadn’t even thought about scouting in years. I found a box with my Eagle Scout project proposal, my merit badges, old books, my handbook, etc and when I looked at the pictures posted above a flood of memories came back.

      I didn’t have great experiences in scouting, I didn’t like it, that’s the honest truth. To my surprise, the overwhelming response to this post was positive and I received many emails from young men sharing the same sentiment.

      Driving indeed should be earned, but scouting is not the only method to earn trust. In high school I was active on student council, I played piano for the choir, I got straight a’s, took all honors classes, I sat on other committees in the community, organized school service projects, I had a part time job (two in the summer), and had completed my freshmen year of college by the time I graduated from high school.

      You wrote, “An Eagle scout project is supposed to prepare you for life and part of life is not obtaining the approval or buy in from every idea you present.” Exactly. That was the theme of this post and that’s what I learned. However, the way this man treated me when I was a 14 year old boy was inappropriate and belies a larger issue within the patriarchy of the Mormon Church and the idea of what a scout is and should be.

      For some the scouting program is probably fulfilling and deeply satisfying, for others it is not. No negativity or anger from me, just an honest reflection of my own experience.

    • Tara
      April 13, 2011

      Hawk, I would also like to point out that comparing the way Seth was treated to Hollywood screenwriters getting turned down for a movie is completely erroneous. When your chosen profession is to write movie ideas and present them to Hollywood bigwigs, you are agreeing to be turned down more often than not. When you are a 14 year old boy who enjoys music and theater as opposed to camping and blowing things up, having a church authority belittle you and your well-intentioned ideas is not something a child should need to be prepared for.

      I know Seth very well, and everything about him is remarkable. He has always had original and unique ideas, and because of this, has had to constantly defend himself against jerks like the church councilman and now total strangers like you.

  • William
    August 1, 2012

    Sadly, this is too common of an issue with Scouting. It should not be as you experienced. As a disgruntled leader (yes, my son is struggling to earn his Eagle), I see completely what goes on. I am at the belief that Scouting is more about adults bullying youth than developing youth. Yes, even adults bullying adults. I have a SM trying to bully me for being one of three on turning down his son’s board of review. It was a simple case of the youth being a bully… like daddy. I tried to talk to the youth in a mentor-like way, but… Any way, I do feel bad in one way and understand in another.

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