A Short Story: Scout Camp Manners

[May 8, 2024]  Not long ago, at a week-long Boy Scout camp, I was sitting at a lunch table with a small troop of young boys.  I immediately noticed their lack of table manners.  We were at our annual campout learning outdoor skills, but just as important, they were learning how to get along with others.  They had to learn to eat their meals without creating a scene or disturbing others.  Yes, boys will be boys, acting up, showing off, teasing each other, goofing and joking around, and generally creating havoc.  My job?  Bring civilization to the daily meals.

Some of my colleagues, including other adult scout leaders, had obviously given up and begun to tolerate poor manners.  I sometimes think the adults’ table manners were just as bad.  The challenge I faced was how to bring order to our meals.  Indeed, that task was more than teaching the boys how to use a fork, knife, and spoon properly; it was also about behaving using a clear set of rules.  That way, we could restore order and enjoy a stress-free meal.

One might assume that the boys’ parents had taught them the basics, but that would be incorrect.  The boys rarely came from a traditional two-parent household where families sat down calmly and had an enjoyable, prepared, hot meal.  Nope, what I thought was common was rare.  We had to begin with the basics, yet I had to do more than finger-wagging.

There’s a sociological theory most commonly known as the “Broken Glass Theory.”  It links current and minor misbehavior to greater, future problems.  For example, at a Boy Scout camp, not enforcing the lesser important rules can lead to outbreaks of fighting and mischief days later.  Adults must not walk by problems, regardless of how minor, ignoring a mistake.  Those leaders should also exercise caution in how they correct poor behavior.

At the luncheon table, I was the one who taught the boys how to use everyday eating utensils.  Eating with a spoon held like a shovel seemed to work well for the boys; it was fast and if you bend over the table, hovering over the meal tray, lots of food can go into the mouth.  The issue was that such behavior contradicted our mission to teach young boys how to be responsible young men.  “Caveman-style eating is bad.”  Simple rules, politely enforced, work the best.  Add humor, and this becomes a winning combination.

Raymond was 15 and a notorious eater: fast, sloppy, dirty, burping, and rude.  He became a Guinea Pig.  If I could get him in line, others might just follow.  Raymond adjusted to the new rules for the next week, one small step at a time.  The way I got him to change his behavior was to convince him that good table manners could be a source of pride and that he could teach the younger scouts who looked up to him.  At first, I was surprised that he started dressing in a cleaner uniform and was acting up less in merit badge classes.  Raymond was now on time for scouting events and enjoyed scouting.

The lesson was simple.  Teach boys to enjoy good manners, entice them to adopt responsibility for others, provide simple rewards, let them lead others, and stand back and watch them grow and surprise you.


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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I provide one article every day. My writings are influenced by great thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Jung, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Jean Piaget, Erich Neumann, and Jordan Peterson, whose insight and brilliance have gotten millions worldwide to think about improving ourselves. Thank you for reading my blog.

23 thoughts on “A Short Story: Scout Camp Manners

  1. Pen Q

    Funny and gives me something to think about, “The Broken Window Theory.” Well done!!!!

  2. ijore

    … and who didn’t love the Boy Scouts. But they no longer exist. I’m happy that Gen. Satterfield was there when they actually had a moral purpose with a basis in Christianity. That no longer is the basis of their strength.

    1. Rev. Michael Cain

      Ouch (as Gen. Satterfield often says), this is a hard look at the “new” and “modern” Scouts. They don’t promote the soul but what “feels” good.

  3. Belly Who

    As a scout leader myself, they call me an “adult leader” (who would know, I’m 68 years young), I concur with this article about young boys not having any manners, esp. not any table manners. Each campout, summer camp, or dinner to honor Eagle Scouts, I’m the one making sure the boys are not making a mockery of themselves and generating another stereotype boy scouter. Come on, guys. Please use a fork properly. I’ve had the greatest life among scouts and would not trade that experience for anything. Getting the boys to fix their bad manners is just one part of the great experiences I’ve had. Too bad now that it is no longer the Boy Scouts, now it’s something else with girls. I’ll hang up my scout hat this year, even if I could to on. Boy Scout Headquarters has failed our boys.

  4. Neat Man II

    As a long-time Boy Scout leader I can emphasize with the table manners issue. Well presented. Thanks. Many solutions to the problem. One presented here.

    1. Mother Picasso

      Neat Man II, yep, that is why I continue to read this leadership blog, and also read this leadership forum where there are many great comments that add to the discussion of the topic.

  5. North of Austin

    Thanks, Gen. Satterfield. Very entertaining and has a lesson to boot.

  6. Ronny Fisher

    We teach manners not because we don’t like seeing boys eat peas with a knife (we do because it’s funny) but because this is the beginning of teaching them the discipline they will need in life. There are always rules. And those who are best at learning and following the rules will be those who do the best in life and who are also the most free.

  7. Winston

    I always find these “short stories” by Gen. Satterfield most entertaining and this one doesn’t disappoint.

    1. Mikka Solarno

      When Gen. Satterfield writes about his experiences with Boy Scouts, I’m hooked and will read it. There are always great lessons to learn, and the good thing is that the stories always have a way to overcome that particular circumstance. Gen. Satterfield, however, and let me make sure everyone understands, he was an adult leader when it was still the Boy Scouts. Now that the organization has deteriorated and allows girls in (where is the Girl Scout organization?) we see a continued de-emphasis in teaching about God and Country and a big emphasis on teaching social justice. Proof is in their newest “Scout Manual”. No longer the “Boy Scout Manual.”

      1. docwatson

        Mikka, right and true. I quit the Boy Scouts about 10 years ago. Saw the writing on the wall.

  8. bottom feeder

    The lunch table. Now, most of us men have been there. And, who didn’t eat peas with their knife? Huh?

  9. mainer

    It’s not easy being a good Boy Scout Leader. It takes dedication and I mean a lot of dedication. Plus, you have to put up with camping out with a bunch of kids running around and so it’s like herding cats.

    1. Tom Bushmaster

      Got that right, mainer. I was a Scoutmaster for 10 years. And wow, that was a long time, and difficult, and challenging, but worth every minute.

  10. Lou Schmerconish

    Gen. Satterfield, well done! If you want to test a theory, any of us, then try it out on teenage boys. If it works with them, it will work with any one, period. They are the hardest to deal with and the results can bring the biggest payoff as well. Keep up the great work you are doing, Gen. S. and thanks.

  11. Newbie in Seattle

    Applied leadership at its finest. Well done, sir!!!!

  12. Max Foster

    I think Gen. Satterfield as an adult scout leader might have been lucky with Raymond.
    “Raymond was 15 and a notorious eater: fast, sloppy, dirty, burping, and rude. He became a Guinea Pig. If I could get him in line, others might just follow. Raymond adjusted to the new rules for the next week, one small step at a time. The way I got him to change his behavior was to convince him that good table manners could be a source of pride and that he could teach the younger scouts who looked up to him. At first, I was surprised that he started dressing in a cleaner uniform and was acting up less in merit badge classes. Raymond was now on time for scouting events and enjoyed scouting.”

    1. Watson Bell

      No, Max, I don’t think so. Gen.S. was deliberate in his work with this kid and if you apply the right leadership principles you can bring around just about anyone. In this case, a kid with bad manners became a kid with not-so-bad manner. 😀😀😀😀😀

      1. OJ to Hell

        I agree Watson. Scout leaders have a lot to do and little time to get it done. If you can bring older scouts into line with soft discipline, and they are also influential scouts/scout youth leaders, then you can bring them all around with little effort.

    2. Good Dog

      Maybe yes, maybe no. I think it was much more than luck.

    1. Jonnie the Bart

      Yep, just the reason I read this blog every day. I don’t want to miss anything.

  13. Steve Dade

    Good use of the Broken Window Theory, even if it was accidental. We can learn a lot of lessons from this, and the main one is to enforce the small rules, which will lead to following the big rules. Tolerate bad table manners, and you will never know what will follow, maybe nothing at all or maybe not. Adult Scout leaders need to be on guard for bad manners, if for no other reason that the kid returning to his home and now has “atrocious” table manners then the parents will say, ‘HEY, WHAT ARE YOU TEACHING MY KID?” ⚜️


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