In Praise of War Stories

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Around the Campfire

Now that I’m celebrating another birthday, I’ve officially been an adult Scouter for 30 years. (Yikes!) In much of that time, I’ve been a trainer in one form or another, including serving on two Wood Badge staffs and seven Philmont Training Center faculties (counting this summer, when I’ll be leading the August 10-16 session of Building Stronger Troops).

In all those years and in all those training sessions, I’ve followed a cardinal rule: no war stories! War stories not only kill clock, but they also tend to descend into nostalgia for the good old days, which were neither better nor worse than today—just different.

Recently, however, I’ve begun to repent. Here’s why.

We live in the ASAP Age, when everyone expects quick-fix, microwaveable, three-easy-steps, just-add-water solutions to every problem. This reality shows up in all sorts of ways, from the decline of newspapers and newsweeklies to the popularity of liposuction to the prevalence of one-and-done college athletes.

But here’s the deal. Scouting doesn’t work that way. Its magic takes time, which means newer leaders need to hear the perspective—even the war stories—of those of us who’ve been around a little longer. We’ve seen those Energizer bunnies called Tiger Cubs grow into responsible young men. We’ve seen Boy Scouts who couldn’t get through a night of camping without a meltdown lead two-week canoe trips at Northern Tier. We’ve been to our Venturers’ high-school graduations and danced at their weddings. We need to tell those stories.

In 2012, I had the pleasure of purchasing three “future Philmont hiker” onesies at the Philmont trading post. They were for Scouts who hiked with me at Philmont in 1998 and are now first-time dads. When I return to Philmont this summer, I plan to tell that story to the folks in my conference. They need that perspective so they can hang on and begin to assemble their own set of war stories to tell 20 or 30 years from now.

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