Be Prepared! / Scouting

Re-Writing the Laws, Polishing a Promise

To prep for this Big Scout adventure, I thought it might be smart to track down some old GS handbooks, if for no other reason than to look at how scouting for girls has evolved over the past century. Thank you, eBay, for making this possible; I’m now the proud owner of many editions of the Junior Girl Scout Handbook (once known as the “Intermediate” handbook), dating back to 1933.

I expected to see any number of changes that reflect shifts in cultural norms, attitudes towards girls and women, and more.  I did.

What I didn’t expect to see was a change in the Girl Scout Promise and Laws. I guess I’ve always thought of a promise or a law as a fairly immovable object, like the concrete slab on which this house sits. Come the tornado, you can still trust it to be there. A promise or law feels like the kind of thing that, if you broke it, you’d know it and, well, there’d be consequences.

Here are the three versions of the promise I’ve observed:

I was a Junior scout around 1970-71, which means I was one of the last scouts to say the original version. And the current version of the handbook still has the version first seen in 1986. So let’s assess:

  • The first line remains the same, and I’ve already written some thoughts on that pesky  verb at the end of the sentence.
  • God, country, and people are all there.
  • The third line from the original version returns to its place in the latest version.
  • The Laws (plural) have become one Law (singular).
  • On the whole, the language is a little softer, and the changes feel subtle.

The original laws have taken more of a hit over time. Witness, if you will:

Are these differences subtle? Or are they huge?

I confess, when I first saw these changes, I twitched uncomfortably. I ignored the actual language, opting instead to wall, rather righteously, in the shallow pool of tradition. The way I saw it, since I’d been forced to say those laws from 1933 (and again, I was about the last group to do it), then every subsequent scout should be stuck with that antiquated language, too.

It’s history, dammit, and you can’t change history.

Except…. aren’t those changes wonderful? I think so! Same core principles, improved and made relevant again. And my favorite law is “to be courageous and strong.” Man, I could’ve used that one. I was the ultimate wuss as a tween. I backed down from anything that gave me a moment’s discomfort.

So is anybody bothered by changes to those things we call “promises” and “laws?” Not me, not really. Not when the intention remains true. Not when it means the law remains relevant and meaningful.


One thought on “Re-Writing the Laws, Polishing a Promise

  1. I remember being personally challenged by the omission of “cheerful.” The scouting experience is geared to equip capable and resourceful girls to engage in meaningful interactions with the world. The current laws suggest an existence that is satisfying and very likely cheerful, too.

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