“Be prepared” is the Boy Scout motto.
Having been involved with Scouting for eight years as a youth, 12 years as an adult volunteer, and 20 years as a professional career, I’m familiar with those two words chosen to be the motto of the movement by its founder, Lord Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell.
As a young Scout, I took a course in wilderness survival long before there was a wilderness survival merit badge.
Along with the knowledge I gained from that course, and the official Boy Scout Handbook and Fieldbook, every time I packed for a campout I put my homemade survival kit in my pack.
Inside the kit was a small compass. I think it came from a Cracker Jack box. Not suitable for cross country orienteering, it would at least keep me walking in a straight line instead of going in circles if I got seperated from my troop and was lost.
There also was a length of fishing line and a hook. If I should happen across a lake while walking in that straight line, I could catch a fish and eat it.
The kit also included a few “strike anywhere” matches — Ohio Blue Tip were my preference — wrapped tightly in aluminum foil to protect them from water.
I would need the matches to build a fire to cook the fish. The aluminum foil could be used to cook the fish, but I might save the foil to use as a reflector to signal the rescue plane that noticed the smoke from my fire.
There were other things in that kit, but I can’t remember what they all were. They were tucked safely in an old bread sack to keep them waterproof; zip lock bags had not been invented yet.
I dutifully stuck that survival kit in my pack many times. Yet, I never used the contents, at least for their intended purpose.
While I never earned the coveted Eagle Scout rank, the idea of being prepared stuck with me.
In high school one of my coaches nicknamed me “Radar,” from the television show MASH’s Radar O’Reilly, who had an uncanny ability to anticipate things before they happened.
Mine was no strange ability — I was just a Boy Scout being prepared.
Need an extra towel for a shower on the road? “Here I brought one.”
Your mom left your game jersey at home in the dryer or you brought the wrong color for the away game? “Here, I’ve got an extra one, as long as you don’t mind being number 99 tonight.”
I started bringing an extra game jersey on the road after a first string player forgot his and literally had to take the shirt off the back of another player. The other player had to sit on the bench wearing a warm up jacket zipped up knowing he wasn’t going to get in the game. He may not have played in the game anyway, but at least with a jersey he had hope.
Can’t find the kicking tee or extra point block? “Look in the bottom of my first-aid kit. You’ll find an extra one of each.”
Coach, got a sore throat from yelling at the referee? “Here’s a box of Sucrets. My mom says they are the best.”
As an adult, being prepared takes a different form for me.
When I commuted to Salt Lake City for work everyday, during the winter I would pack my car with bottled water, a few granola bars, a change of warm clothes, boots, socks, and a blanket, in case I got stuck in a snowbank on Interstate 80.
Today I keep an extra notebook and pen in may car. I never know when I might come across a story or pull into the parking lot for a meeting and realize that I forgot my pen.
And that’s two pens. I don’t want the ink to run out in the middle of writing.
I also carry extra batteries for my recorder.
Being prepared has stuck with me, kind of like the old BAND-AID jingle, — “I’m stuck on BAND-AIDs, cause BAND-AIDS stuck on me.”
Somebody once asked Baden-Powell what Scouts were supposed to be prepared for. “Why for any old thing,” he replied.
“You are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty,” Baden-Powell wrote to young men in his original Scout handbook, “Scouting for Boys.”
While the number of ranks earned, merit badges awarded and nights camping are an easy metric to measure in Scouting, they shouldn’t be substituted for the aims of Scouting.
The real measure of success for Scouting is how well the ideals of Scouting get “stuck on” its youth, just like “Be Prepared” stuck on me.
This idea of keeping an eye on the big picture, or not taking your eyes off the mountaintop goal while resting in the mountain’s alpine meadows, applies to more than Scouting.
Here’s a final thought on being prepared from Baden-Powell that helps capture a big picture. You don’t have to be or have been a Scout to learn from this. Maybe it will stick on you:
“I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life. Happiness doesn’t come from being rich, nor merely from being successful in your career, nor by self-indulgence. …
“Be contented with what you have got and make the best of it. Look on the bright side of things instead of the gloomy one.
“But the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave this world a little better than you found it, and when your turn comes to die you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best. ‘Be Prepared’ in this way, to live happy and to die happy …”
And let me add: Don’t forget to tuck your survival kit in your pack each morning.