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When Telling The Truth Was Still A Lie

December 15, 2014

Rodney, we’d like to ask you to help Kerry with the scouts as an Assistant Scoutmaster.

I’d love to.

My life just got busier. Our church, like most LDS congregations, sponsors a Boy Scout troop. I was recently asked to join with our scoutmaster and help run the scouting program for 12-13 year old boys, two of which are my sons.

Some people would rather stick red-hot needles under their fingernails. I know this. I’m not one of those people. I love scouting. I met with the boys and the leaders today and they got to ask me questions for ten minutes non-stop.

Many of the lessons I’ve learned in Scouting apply directly to business. One of the most unusual lessons occurred nearly 30 years ago. I had to decide if telling the truth was a lie, and if lying would have been the truth.

I’ve been involved with Boy Scouts since I joined my first boy scout troop when I was 11 years old. I fell in love with scouting. I went on to earn my Eagle Scout badge. As an adult, I’ve been Assistant Scoutmaster, Cub Master, Scoutmaster and a troop committee member. This story happened right at the beginning of my adult scouting career.

Like many LDS young men, I went on a two year mission when I turned 19. I was called to Chicago, IL to work with deaf people. When I arrived, I discovered the missionaries sponsored a deaf Boy Scout troop. My companion was the Scoutmaster. I became his assistant. It was an interesting letter to write home and ask my parents to send me my scout uniform.

After a couple of months “transfers” happened. My senior companion, Elder Thompson was transferred. I became a senior companion for a new missionary and I was asked to become the scoutmaster.

There was just one problem. BSA regulations require that scoutmasters be 21 years old. Elder Thompson went on his mission later, he was 25. I was 20.

Lying would have been the simplest solution, right? I just tell them I’m 21 and keep my mouth shut. The problem was now two-fold. First, I was missionary for the Mormon church. We were supposed to represent not only the church, but Jesus Christ himself. Lying didn’t seem like something that Jesus would do.

Second, I was applying to be a Scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts, and organization whose very name is synonymous with honest.

A scout is:

Trustworthy
Loyal
Helpful
Friendly
Courteous
Kind
Obedient
Thrifty
Brave
Clean and
Reverent

I’m pretty sure lying on the application would have broken at least a couple of the items in the Scout Law.

What would you do? Without a scoutmaster the troop would disband. We didn’t have any local leadership that knew enough about scouting and could also sign. As a project manager I can think of at least two or three alternatives. As a 20 year old young man, I couldn’t think of a single one.

Finally, I went to the Scout office and sat down with the Scout executive responsible for chartering our troop.

Look, I’m not going to lie. I’m happy to be the scoutmaster, but not if I have to lie.

Well, tell you what, put your actual birthdate down and just leave blank the box where it asks for your name. We’ll send it up and see what District says.

That seemed reasonable to me. At least I wasn’t lying. . .was I?

I’ve often found myself in a situation where sharing complete information would actually be harmful. Does the client need to know that we came within an hour of missing our deadline?

Rodney, how are we looking for the launch?

Great. Yep, right on track.

Is it a lie? Being able to know how much information to share is one of the most important skills of a project manager.

There are other times where even though the news is bad, you have to share.

Our testing failed. We cannot make the deadline that we committed to.

But deciding when to do one or the other is a critical skill.

In Chicago all those years ago, we tried to walk a fine line of being honest, but not oversharing. And it worked. I became the Scoutmaster for our troop of deaf boys. It made me the youngest scoutmaster in the BSA organization.

Now I have the opportunity to step back into it. My new role as assistant means I don’t have to do any of the planning, or not a lot. My role is to show up and teach scout skills. You know, building fires, identifying plants, teaching first aid.

I just figured out what I’m going to be doing with my spare time.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

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2 Comments
  1. Sounds familiar. I enjoyed scouting as a child, but never got past cubs. When my son was old enough we volunteered to host a den, and was later asked to function as cub master in his last year of cubs.

    I faced a rather more serious qualification issue – as a confirmed atheist I was, and still am supposed to be barred from any position in scouting, and told the district representative so. He countered with the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ position that President Clinton had offered as a compromise to gays in the military – and the similarity was not lost on me. But the lack of any other parent with the time or experience put us in a hard place, and I took the position. It was an enjoyable year, and I am told I did a good job, but I knew it was mostly everyone else.

    The sad part was that spring the regional council revoked the membership of an eagle scout who had a crisis of conscience. He showed real integrity in declaring his changed beliefs knowing what would happen. It soured the end of my career in scouting a little, but not totally. I hold out hope that eventually the BSA will recognize that those of us who choose to live without gods have the same ethics and desire for high standards as they aspire to.

    • Wow. Thanks for sharing. I have many good friends who are either atheists or agnostics. I’ve found good people across the entire spectrum of belief. I tend to look at what kind of actions a person performs. I’ve seen incredible love and compassion from people who don’t believe in God. I’ve also seen pettiness from people sitting in church every Sunday. Not exclusively, of course. Just to say that there are great people in all walks of life.

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