Serendipity and Scouting


I was thrilled recently to have the chance to write a profile of the late Green Bar Bill Hillcourt for Scouting magazine. I thought about him a lot as I worked on the current edition of the Boy Scout Handbook since his 9th edition version of the handbook is what got me re-energized when my interested in Scouting was waning. (I also had the chance to meet him twice, once at the 1981 National Scout Jamboree and once at a 1988 Wood Badge reunion.)

In working on the Scouting article, I came across an essay Hillcourt wrote called “The Life of a Serendipist,” which you can read at the website of Troop 1, Mendham, N.J. In it, he talks about serendipity, which he defines as “a gift for finding valuable things not sought for.”

To me, that’s where Scouting is at its best–not in carefully planned programs (although our programs should be carefully planned!) but in happenstance occurrences. One Scout discovers a lifelong hobby because he happens to take a certain merit badge, another Scout chooses his career because his Scoutmaster happens to work in that field, a third Scout forges lifelong friendships because he happens to be in a great patrol.

I thought about the role of serendipity this week when I read about Distinguished Eagle Scout Larry Bacow, who was just named president of Harvard University. Bacow is Jewish, but he happened to join a troop that met at a church. And that interfaith experience, he told a Scouting audience several years ago, taught him how to work with all sorts of people–a skill that’s pretty important for a university president.

You can’t create serendipity, of course, but I think you can work to make sure your Scouts are exposed to as many different kinds of people and as many different kinds of activities as possible. And you can use Scoutmaster minutes and Scoutmaster conferences as opportunities to help Scouts recognize the life lessons that just happen to occur every time they show up for a meeting or outing.

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.