Missed Opportunities

Scouts, what kind of opportunities were you looking for when you joined a scout troop? That’s easy! You were looking for fun. You may learn about a whole bunch of big, impressive words like Loyalty and Reverence and Honor and being Trustworthy. But you didn’t join for that. You joined for fun.

You wanted camping and swimming, and cooking over an open fire, and roasting marshmallows, and sleeping outside in tents. That’s what your expectations were. As leaders, we know that. But we hope that once we get you in uniform, other parts of the Scouting program will make an impact on your life as well as all the fun stuff.

As you grow and become more knowledgeable about the Scouting program, you will see some doors, opportunities if you will, that you might consider opening. There’s a door marked “Summer Camp”. Another door is marked “Photography Merit Badge”. Another door is marked “Knots.” Another door is marked “Orienteering.” As a matter of fact, there are hundreds of doors just waiting for you to open them and see what kind of opportunity is waiting there for you.

Do all scouts open the same doors? Nope. They don’t have to. They open the doors that spark their interest. The real objective, however, is to open doors that don’t spark your interest. The ones that you don’t know if you are going to like them or not. The real objective is to train yourself “to try”. Because you never know what unique opportunity you will miss if you fail to open that door.

As you work your way down the hall, opening doors and learning about what is inside and then coming on down the hall to open more doors, you begin to notice that there is one door at the end of the hall. All the doors seem to be leading to that door. On the door is a sign that says “Eagle Scout.”

Will you make it to that door? I didn’t. I was in Troop 26 when I was a Scout. I saw the door. I wanted to make it that far. I met Eagle Scouts in Troop 26 that I looked up to and wanted to be like. I looked up to Walmer Frank and Jim Goller and Don Shutters just like you guys look up to Don Hull and Bob Doby and James Foutch and Jesse Stallings. I promised myself that I would make it to that door. But I didn’t.

The two photos in this Scoutmaster’s Minute tell a story. I am in both photographs. One, the black and white one, is the first scout who joined the troop after I became Scoutmaster in 1969, earning his Eagle Scout Award. His name is Mark Herhold. He was one of the first ten Eagle Scouts in Troop 26 and earned his Eagle Scout award in the early 70’s. He is now living in Chicago with a great job and a wonderful family and a beautiful house. Why? Because he never missed opportunities. He tried his best to learn everything he could learn. He did that at Byrd Jr. High, he did that on my 7th grade football team, he did that at Memorial High School and OSU, and he continues to do that today. He went places and met people and he took advantage of opportunities. He saw the door marked Eagle Scout and he went in.

The color photo is the 515th Eagle Scout in Troop 26. He knows about opportunities too. He saw the door and he went in. Both young men are Eagle Scouts. Both are going places. I think I helped them both make it to that door. I hope I did. Consider this! Maybe, if I help enough boys to make it to that door marked Eagle Scout, that might be sort of like making it myself. Do you think that might be true?

The answer to that is “no.” I missed the opportunity. I had it. And I missed it. It doesn’t matter how long I remain a Scoutmaster and it doesn’t matter how many Eagle Scouts this troop produces. It doesn’t matter if there are 515 Troop 26 Eagle Scouts or 10,515. There could have been one more. Me. But it didn’t happen because I missed my opportunity. I can’t blame anyone but myself.

We talk about “taking a step towards the chairs.” The chairs we are talking about are the chairs placed in front of the Eagle Scout Court of Honor for the boys who are making Eagle Scout that night. Will you make it through the door? Will you make it to the chairs? Is one of those chairs waiting for you? Will you make the most of your opportunities in Scouting and in life?

And remember, there is one more door in that hallway. Scouts don’t like to think about it. That door is open. On the door is a sign that says “18 Years Old”. When that door closes, all the other doors lock. You’ll never be able to open them again. Never. And that will be a tragic missed opportunity. I missed my opportunity. Don’t miss yours.

And what about that door? If you go inside that door marked “Eagle Scout”, is that it? Nope. Then you find more doors. There is a door that says “Leadership Corp” on it. Another says “Philmont Scout Ranch” on it. Another says “Sommers Canoe Base”. Another says “Alaska.” Another says “Australia”. My advice to you is this. Make the most of your opportunities.

© Bill Shaffer 2003


I Have been a scoutmaster for thirty-five years and I have, for as long as I can remember, started each year with the same Scoutmaster’s Minute. I love this one because it is so appropriate for the new year.

It’s about one of my very favorite movies. The musical version of Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol. Its called “Scrooge” and stars Albert Finney. My favorite part in the movie comes when Scrooge wakes up in his bed after having seen all the ghosts. The last ghost showed him his death and the “ponderous chain” that he had forged in life through his despicable deeds and now must wear in death for eternity. Scrooge wakes up scared to death. His blanket is wrapped around his neck and shoulders exactly like the chain had been wrapped around him in the dream.

Scrooge can’t believe he is alive. And he’s not sure what has happened. But he is elated to find that it is Christmas Day and he hasn’t missed it. And what he says next, in word and song, is the subject of this Scoutmaster’s Minute. Here is what he said.

“Perhaps it didn’t happen. Perhaps it did. But I’m alive. I’ve got the chance to change…..and I will not be the man I was. I’ll begin again. I will build my life. I will live to know that I have fulfilled my life. I’ll begin today. Throw away the past. And the life I will build will be something that will last.

I will take the time I have left to live, I will give it all that I have left to give. I will live my days for my fellow man and I live in praise of that moment when…..I was able to begin again.

I will start anew. I will make amends. I will make quite certain that this story ends on a note of hope. On a strong amen. I will thank the world and remember when…..I was able to begin…….again.”

For whatever reason, Scrooge decided that he could start over and lead a more productive life. A life that was focused on helping others rather than gratifying his own wants and needs.

That same thing happens for us at the time of each new year. That is the time we think about :new years resolutions” and making changes in our lives. I’m doing that too.

I want to be a better scoutmaster. I want to be a more compassionate friend. I want to read some books that I have been meaning to read. I want to visit some people that I haven’t seen in a while. I want to go to a museum, hoping to be inspired to paint a picture or draw something. I love to do that but often claim to be too tired to be artistic. I want to give some of my art to my friends. That always makes me feel great, to give something that is a part of myself to others. I haven’t done that very often. I want to write more birthday cards and thank you notes. I want to be there for friends in need. I want to smile more and gripe less. I want to see God in the sunrise and stop to notice the flowers and the falling leaves. I want to pause and reflect on the gift of the friends I have had and the blessings of the new friends I am making. I’m glad for this time to reflect on the time I have left and, like Scrooge, make the most of it.

How about you? What are the promises you are making to yourselves at the beginning of this brand new year. Think about this scouts, and don’t waste this exciting new opportunity……….to begin again.

© Bill Shaffer 2003

Learn Something New

Several years ago, I took an art class. The class was on “scratch art” and it turned out that I was pretty good at it. The art board was made up of layers of white on top of each other and topped off with black. Using a little stylus, you scratch away the areas on your subject where the light hits. It’s a very unique form of art and my instructor was so impressed with my work that he insisted that I do a “one man” show at one of the big hotels here in Tulsa. I was so scared, seeing all my work matted and framed and hanging on the walls. I didn’t tell anyone who I was. I just wandered around listening to what people had to say about my work. It really felt good. Everything sold except for one piece. I kept it and hung it in my home.

You may think that this Scoutmaster’s Minute is about art. Or you may think that I am just taking this opportunity to tell you how cool I am and about the art work that I can do. You would be wrong. This Scoutmaster’s Minute is about failure.

My failure. I’ve always been good at art. I practiced drawing a lot in elementary school and junior high school. And none of it was in art classes. I was drawing in classes that were addressing other subjects. Subjects that I should have been paying attention to. Instead, I was drawing. My teachers and my mom thought that this was wasting my time. I used the excuse…”Well, it’s something that I am good at!” I was using one talent as an excuse to avoid learning anything else.

You know, sometimes the road to being a successful person goes through places that we don’t want to go. Sometimes we have to study things that we don’t want to study and read things that we don’t want to read. Some times we have to listen to some people that we don’t want to listen to. We can’t just hide behind the one or two things we are good at.

Here is an example. I was asked to fix a toilet once. Actually, I was asked to just change the toilet seat. That had to be easy, I told myself. All I had to do was loosen the screws that held the seat to the porcelain. But they were rusted shut. I couldn’t get them to move. But I had a hammer. A gentle tap on the screw should do it. I hit the screw with the hammer and the toilet bowl cracked in half. I was sitting on the floor trying to keep the two halves together when I noticed that the water was turning red. I had cut my hands on the porcelain. In an attempt to get the water to go away, I reached up and flushed the toilet. Mistake!!! More water rushing in.

How about the plumbing Merit Badge? Wouldn’t it have been great if I had spent a little time with this one when I was in scouts.

My challenge for you in 2002 is this. Learn something you don’t want to learn. Take a merit badge about a subject that you are not interested in. Stretch your talents. Grow in your ability to handle different things.

Don’t be like your old Scoutmaster. Don’t be standing there at age 56 and talking about the only thing you are good at. That’s not success. That’s failure.

© Bill Shaffer 2004

Keep Running Till You Cross Home Plate

I used to love baseball. Or at least I thought I did. I joined the Franklin Phillies in the 5th grade, got my glove and my T-shirt with Franklin Phillies on it and my baseball hat. I was ready. I only played one year. Actually, it might have been less than that. I really only remember one inning. I was up to bat. First time. First game.

I think I knew from the minute that the ball left the pitcher’s hand that it was coming straight at my face. I did exactly the wrong thing. I turned and ran. Two steps. The wire mesh backstop kept me right there till the ball hit me right in the back of the head. I can still remember my fingers holding onto the backdrop right before the lights went out. When I woke up several minutes later I had made up my mind. I knew right then that baseball was not for me. I went home and told my mom. “I don’t want to play anymore. I want to do something else.” My mom wanted to know what we were going to do with my brand new $15 dollar baseball glove. $15 dollars. Boy those were the days. I think gloves are more expensive now. Anyway, one game, one inning, one pitch, end of baseball career.

You know, scouts, I think Scouting is a lot like baseball. You know after the first campout whether or not you like it. Maybe it takes a little longer. Maybe after your first winter campout. Or maybe after your first rainy campout or your first summer camp. But you know pretty early if the scouting program is the activity for you.

Scouting is a great activity because of the values it teaches. Any young man would benefit in a positive way from learning about the Scout Oath and Law and the values that these codes of conduct represent. But let’s get real. Very few boys join scouting because of the code or the Oath or the Law. They join because of the fun. If its not fun, they put their uniform in the box marked “garage sale” and move on to something that “is” fun. And that’s OK. Scouting isn’t for everyone. I wish everyone loved it as much as I do but that just isn’t the case.

But what if you do like it? Lets pretend that scouting is like baseball. What if you hit the ball instead of running from it? What if you get to first base and everybody is cheering and you feel great about yourself? What if you steal second and get into scoring position and everyone in the stands is going wild?

What if you hit a triple? The coaches are screaming and clapping. All your team members are excited. You are standing proudly on top of third base with your chest stuck out. You’re dusting yourself off after a fantastic slide into the bag and you glance up in the stands and see your parents with their cameras and camcorders preserving this special moment. A triple. How great is that? Your heart is about to bust through your chest. You just can’t believe you love baseball so much.

But let’s say you hit a game winning home run. You are a senior in high school. This is the final game of the State Championship. Bottom of the ninth, score tied, two outs, two strikes and three balls. Bases empty. This could be the last pitch. You swing. You connect. You see the ball going over the fence as you round first base. And what if this is your very first home run? Ever? The fans are going absolutely nuts. Your grandparents are up there in the stands. So is your little league coach. And there is your little brother. He’s wearing a T-shirt with your number on it. Popcorn is flying in the air as people high five each other and fireworks are going off and the computer generated scoreboard has the words “HOME RUN” flashing on and off for everybody to see.

That home run is the product of all the coaching, all the games, all the practice sessions. You’re part of a team and you have developed the skills to make a difference in the game. As you round second base, you think about all the times your parents have driven you to practice. All the uniforms you have bought and outgrown. You think about all the coaches you have had that shared a little time out of their lives to spend with some invaluable time with you.

You round third base. You see home plate. The third base coach is waving you home. The team is lined up waiting for you to lift you on their shoulders when you cross the plate. People with cameras are trying to get into position for a great shot. Hats and gloves are flying in the air. The fans are stomping the bleachers with their feet and chanting your name over and over.

But then a strange thing happens. You stop. You look around. You see all the excitement that is going on. And then you see the excitement stop. Your team is looking at you. Your parents are looking at you. They don’t know what you are doing. They look confused. You look over at the bleachers and you see the little kids team. They were chanting your name just seconds ago. They looked up to you and they wanted to be like you when they got to be seniors. Now they are looking at each other wondering what you are stopping for. You look back at the scoreboard. They have already added your run to the total for your team and the scoreboard is now flashing “State Champions” over and over.

And then you turn away from home plate. Your batting helmet is lying in the dirt somewhere between first and second. You take off your baseball hat and drop it in the dust between third and home. And you walk to the locker room without looking back. The field and the stands are absolutely silent as the team and the spectators watch you walk off the field.

What do you think of this little story, scouts? I repeat. I think Scouting is a little like baseball. And if that is true, the story I have suggested to you is exactly what happens when you have passed your Life rank and you walk away without getting your Eagle Scout award. All the people who invested time in you from your den mother and your Webelos leader to your scoutmaster and all the merit badge counselors will never understand why you walked away after getting that close. It will be one of the hardest things you will ever have to explain. I was First Class when I quit and I have a tough time explaining that. I can only imagine what it would be like to be so close to the Eagle Scout Award, and then not earn it.

This Scoutmaster’s Minute (Sorry, I know it has been longer than a minute!) is for Life Scouts. The rest of you need to hear it too but it is primarily for Life Scouts. You are getting older and other things are starting to become important in your lives. Cars, jobs, girls, coaches, harder courses in school, peer pressure, lots of things. But remember what you said to yourself that very first time you saw an Eagle medal pinned to someone’s chest. You told yourself that you were going to be standing there someday. I know that is what you said because that is what I said.

If you are a Life scout, you can see the prize. You have worked so hard already. Home plate is just a little further. Don’t walk away before the game is over. You have the skills, you’ve hit the ball out of the park. Come on down the line to home plate so we can give you the recognition you deserve.

© Bill Shaffer 2004


Scouts. What does self-discipline mean to you? Is it a good thing to have? Is it a good trait to develop in yourself? Why.

Tonight, I would like to give you a reason why I think self-discipline is worth some attention from each scout in the room.

I work at a psychiatric hospital for children and adolescents. I was talking to a young man today who had just lost control of his temper over something really insignificant. He lost his temper and began throwing chairs and personal items at the staff members who were called to assist in calming him down. It became evident that they were going to have to physically control him because of the potential danger he was posing for the staff and for the other children around him.

After he calmed down, he shared with me his thoughts about “authority figures”. He said “I don’t like people telling me what to do. I don’t like people getting in my face and giving me orders and stuff.”

Scouts, this is an important lesson. Listen closely. If you have self-discipline, nobody will ever have to discipline you. If you follow the rules, if you have consideration for others, if you treat others as you would like to be treated yourself, if you conduct yourself in a way that is approved in the society in which you live, nobody will ever have to get in your face and tell you what to do.

If, on the other hand, you disregard rules, treat others with disrespect, ignore societies standards of acceptable behavior, discipline will come your way. Teachers, employers, coaches, policemen, judges, prison guards, you name it, will get in your face and let you know that you have stepped over the line. The discipline you receive will increase in direct proportion to your inability to discipline yourself.

If you have a temper, work on it. Develop self-discipline to keep that temper in check. Your family and friends won’t be able to count on you if you let your temper get out of control. They will never know how you will react to things so they won’t be able to trust you. For those of you with a temper, just know that you are not alone. I have one too. Its something I have to work on every day. Don’t let your temper control your life. If you allow it, your temper will make your life difficult. It will lose you friends and it will diminish the confidence and respect people will have for you. I’ve been there. I know what I’m talking about.

You all know right from wrong. You all know the Golden rule. You all know the Ten Commandments. You are all familiar with the rules and laws of our city, our state, and our country. Since you know all those things, the only thing left is for you to make a commitment to abide by those concepts and live your life in a way that will inspire your family and your neighbors, your employers and your employees, your teachers and your scout leaders.

And it all starts with self-discipline.

© Bill Shaffer 2004

A Circle of Friends

Who is in your circle of friends? How did your circle of friends develop? How does your group of friends handle other kids who would like to join your group?

This is a difficult question to ask a young person but I’m going to ask. What drives your group? What does it take to become a part of your “circle of friends”? Is your circle based on common interests or hobbies? Is it based on skills? Is it based on shared goals? Or is it based on being and remaining “popular”?

If you find that it is necessary to wear the right clothes or have the right shoes or be in the right (acceptable) clubs or organizations, if you have to laugh at jokes that are not funny or laugh at specific people not in your group? Or if you have to follow leaders who are leading the group in the wrong direction, or if you are expected to do things that you know you shouldn’t do, or if you have to become a party to putting other people and other groups down, or if you find that your association with the group is causing your relationship with your family to suffer……..then I would seriously consider finding a new group. How does being in a group like that make you a stronger and better person? How does being in a group like that make you a better adult as you grow up? Guess what! It doesn’t.

This is the fifth anniversary of the tragedy at Columbine High School in Colorado. The two young men involved in causing that tragedy were, from all accounts, outside the mainstream groups. In fact, according to the videos I have seen of these young men, they hated all the mainstream groups and the kids in them. I wonder why. The videos definitely showed their hatred. But the videos don’t come close to telling us what caused the hatred.

We will never know all the details of that terrible day at Columbine High School. We will never know what caused that event that affected the lives of so many people across the nation. And although we can never condone the course of action they decided to take, we should try to understand what caused them to do what they did. We’ll never know what drove those young men that culminated in that horrible day and we’ll never know what part society played in it either.

People are trying to understand. They are trying to find some clue by watching the videos the boys left, reading their web site and their journals, all filled with anger and hatred. But are the clues there or should people have been looking much, much earlier?

I wish I could have seen how those young men were treated by other kids and other groups when they were little. Their suicides certainly seemed to indicate that they were more than willing to leave this life. What had life done to them to make them so angry?

So my question to you, scouts, is this. How do you treat others? The kids you like and the kids you don’t. I know that I remember the kids I was mean to. And I remember the kids who were mean to me. You never forget that stuff. Ever.

A Scout is kind. Reach out to others. Reach down to those less fortunate. Reach up to those who have knowledge or skills that can make you a better person. Reach out to those who can use your help. Widen your circle. Don’t limit yourself to one little group of people.

Remember that the interactions you have with others are like throwing pebbles in a lake. The ripples go forever. The kind things you say to someone might show up years later in ways you can’t imagine. I really believe that this is true. But if it is true, then the reverse is also true. The terrible things you say and do to people might show up years later in ways that you cannot imagine.

And above all, remember this. We’ve all heard about the Golden Rule. But I want to address what I call the “The Black Rules”. Those rules are…..One of the best ways to make yourself feel better….is to make somebody else feel worse. One of the best ways to make yourself feel more important….is to make someone else feel less important. One of the best ways to make yourself feel strong….is to make someone else feel weak. One of the best ways to lift yourself up….is to force someone else down.

These are rules that a good Scout should never be a part of. A Scout who is kind will never treat another child with such disrespect. If your circle of friends practices the Black Rules………do yourself a favor. Make new friends.

© Bill Shaffer 2004

The Weakest Link

Scouts, have you ever seen a suit of armor? Tonight’s Scoutmaster’s Minute is about a medieval suit of armor called “chain mail”. This is a suit of armor consisting of lots of adjoining chain links. The object was to create a suit that entirely covered a knight’s body with these connecting links. The desired effect was that the suit could not be penetrated by arrow or lance or sword. The chain mail would deflect the other knight’s weapon or prevent the weapon from penetrating the suit.

Of course there were problems that were caused by the shape of the human body. There were some places in the chain mail suit of armor that were weaker than other spots. Archers and swordsmen were trained to concentrate on the “weakest links” in their opponent’s armor. The neck and the armpit, for example, were spots where the locking links were not as strong because of the curves and bends of the body.

That is were we get the term, “the weakest link”. A suit of armor was only as strong as its weakest link.

If your patrol was a suit of chain mail, and each patrol member represented an individual link, what part of the suit of armor would you represent? Would you be considered the patrol’s weakest link? Would you be the patrol member considered to be the most vulnerable and the least likely to make a positive contribution? Or would you be considered a strong patrol member? One who does his part. One who tries his best and steps up when someone is needed. What part do you play?

Scout’s, don’t be the weakest link in your patrol or in your troop.

© Bill Shaffer 2004

A Scout is Friendly

This Scoutmaster’s Minute is about the fourth point of the Boy Scout Law. “A Scout is Friendly.

Times have really changed since I was growing up. I remember being able to walk down the street from my house and playing in a huge field. It had a deep canyon running through it and it had caves and tall trees. And the most amazing thing, as I look back on it, was that we could go barefooted. You can’t do that today for sure. Trash, broken glass, rusty nails, rotten boards, and all kinds of stuff keep kids from doing that today. Going barefooted just isn’t safe anymore. Times have really changed and, although this is an exciting time to be alive with all the new technology and computers and games and movies, etc., many of the things that have changed are not positive.

One of those things is our ability to be friendly. The world has become a very suspicious place. Neighbors live right next door to each other for years but never become friends. Some never even meet. We have programs in our schools like D.A.R.E. and Operation Aware. We are told on the evening news about the people out there who will hurt us. People out there who will take advantage of us. People who will use us and disrespect our freedoms. Scams are everywhere. “Stranger danger.” All this has contributed to us becoming a very unfriendly society.

People don’t speak to each other anymore. I can remember my mom making lists of people that she needed to make Christmas candy or cookies for as a way of saying thank for their contribution to our family. The milk man, the postman, the paper boy, the neighbors, the barber who cut my hair (back when I had hair), and my teachers and scout leaders. My mom was a busy woman. But she felt that part of her job as a parent was to reach out to others and to teach me to do that too. She taught me about the importance of thank you notes and birthday cards and messages of condolence. Times have changed. No milk man. Garbage men and paper boy come too early. Lots of changes.

I went through the drive through at the bank this morning to deposit a check. The voice said “Good morning.” I replied, “Good morning. how are you today?” I did that without thinking. The voice said “Thank you for asking. I have already serviced seventy-five people so far this morning and you are the first one to ask me how I was doing. Thank you”.

I have a picture in my head, a Norman Rockwell picture if you will, of Scouts being friendly. Scouts assisting and helping people that they did not know. And people accepting that help with gratitude and friendship. It really isn’t that way anymore except in Norman Rockwell’s paintings. But it could be. It starts with each of us. If we take the time to be friendly, people will respond by being friendly in return. If we don’t, our society will eventually become a cold, uncaring, selfish, and suspicious community of strangers who go through life alone.

Remember. What we put in the lives of others….will someday come back into our own. “A Scout is Friendly.”

© Bill Shaffer 2004

You Can Make a Difference

This is one of my very favorite Scoutmaster’s Minutes. The boys in my troop probably have it memorized. But I think you’ll like it as much as I do.

In April of 1995 an individual named Craig Kielburger who lived in Canada sat down at the breakfast table and picked up the newspaper. As was his habit, he went straight for the comic section first. But before he could get to the comics, an unusual story about a young boy caught his eye.

It was the story of a young Pakistani boy who, at the age of four years old, was sold into slavery by his parents. For the next six years he was chained to a loom. His job was to tie thousands and thousands of tiny knots in the process of making rugs. For this he was paid three cents a day. His will was never broken and he escaped. He began to draw attention to the horrors of child labor in Pakistan. He was now twelve years old. When he began to gain international attention and the rug manufacturers began to lose orders, this young boy was shot and killed.

Craig Kielburger was horrified at the murder of this young Pakistani boy. He wanted to know more. He contacted human rights organizations all across the world and he assembled a group of his friends to form an organization called “Free the Children.” The organization took off and achieved some amazing results. Craig Kiellburger was enthusiastic in leading his organization against the inhumane treatment of children in third world countries.

Craig Kielburger decided that he had to go and see first hand the working conditions of South Asian children. He journeyed through the world of slums, sweatshops, and back alleys where so many of the children of this region slaved away in menial and dangerous jobs. He traveled through Bangladesh, Thailand, India, Nepal, and Pakistan. He witnessed the cruelty and the extent of child labor. He crossed paths with the Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien who was touring Asia with the Team Canada trade mission. Craig Kielburger attained an international profile during this trip.

For his tireless work in this regard, Craig Kielburger received the Roosevelt Medal of Freedom and the State of the World Forum Award. He was made the Ambassador to the Children’s Embassy in Sarajevo and was named a Global Leader of Tomorrow at the World Economic forum in Davos, Switzerland. He received the Canada’s Governor General’s Award for Meritorious Service.

This is an amazing story of courage and persistence. But what makes it even more astounding is this one incredible fact.

That Canadian individual who picked up the newspaper early one morning in 1995, intent on reading the comics but instead reading a story that would change his life and the lives of millions of others…….that individual……. Craig Kielburger……..

Was only twelve years old.

Scouts, do you know what that means? It means that you don’t have to be an adult to make a difference in your school, your community, your state, or even your world. All you have to do is believe in something with all your heart, have confidence in yourself that you can make it happen, and then do it. People of all ages will see in you the conviction and the dedication that will encourage them to follow your example. You can make a difference.

© Bill Shaffer 2004

It’s Not “What do I Need?” It’s “Where am I Needed?”

Scouts, when you hear the word “service”, what exactly does that mean to you? I asked that question at last Monday night’s Scout meeting and the one single answer I got from most scouts was… “When you help people”.

Tonight’s Scoutmaster’s Minute is about service. The definition given by most of the scouts was acceptable, “It’s when you help people”, but I want to add a very important ingredient. Scout service should be a little more than that. A definition of scout service should be “When you help people without expecting anything in return.” That’s service. Pure and simple. The only reward you get is the great feeling in your heart that you have made someone’s day better. That the world was a better place for a little while because you were in it and you answered the call of service to others.

Let me take this one step further. At this point I want to address Life Scouts who are working on their Eagle Service Projects. This is one of the most serious undertakings of any boy’s scouting career. You have the opportunity to do some real good in your community through this project. You have the opportunity to affect people’s lives.

But there is the distinct possibility that this project could be something less than true service. Why? Because you are getting something out of it. You are getting an Eagle Scout Award. It would be very easy to view this project as a “requirement” instead of looking at it as service. The Eagle Scout Service Project booklet tells you exactly what you can and can’t do and they say you must use leadership and they put great store in the record keeping. Let’s face it. The Eagle Scout Service Project is a requirement. It’s treated like a requirement. You get graded on it. And many Life Scouts respond to that by treating it like its a requirement. It’s just one more thing they have to get out of the way in order to earn their Eagle Award. Some of them do exactly what they have to do to satisfy the requirement.

My message to you tonight is that you should try very hard not to look at it as a requirement. Look at it as an opportunity to do something worthwhile. Do everything you are supposed to do. Display leadership. Keep records. But pay attention to the smiles on the faces of the people you are serving. Pay attention to the good you are doing. Sure, you get an award for it, but that’s the last thing you should be thinking of. This should be service. You should do your project as if you weren’t expecting a reward.

Because when all is said and done and years from now you are telling your son about your Eagle Project, you want to be proud of what you did. Not the leadership you used. Not the records you kept. Not the award you got. The Eagle Scout Service Project should stand alone, enriching the lives of all who participate in it and all who receive benefits from it.

Wouldn’t it be great if your project continued to be of enjoyment and service to your community long after people have forgotten the name of the Scout who did it. Service. One of the most essential qualities of an Eagle Scout. Service. One of the qualities that enriches the quality of our lives and brings out the humanity in us all.

Life Scouts……..Don’t ask yourself “What do I need. Ask yourself….

“Where Am I Needed”.

© Bill Shaffer 2004

Thief of Time

Scouts, how do you feel bout punctuality? You know, I never thought much about it. It’s not something I am very good at. I am usually late to just about everything. I try hard enough to get places on time, but other things just seem to always prevent me actually doing it. Traffic is too tough, I had to get something for somebody, I had an important phone call, etc. There is always something. And I rationalize my lack of being punctual by saying well, that’s just me.

In the psychiatric hospital where I work, one of the doctors talked about “self analysis”. He said that it was important that everyone take the time to sit down and look at themselves as others see them. Look at the things that, if changed, would make us better friends, more productive members of the community, better leaders and followers, better students. He said that there wasn’t much about yourself that you couldn’t fix, if only you wanted to fix it.

I had the opportunity to sit in on a job interview. The interviewer asked the potential employee, “What do you think about punctuality.” The job applicant said “Well, I guess that is a good trait to have.” The interviewer responded, “No, that is an essential trait to have. Because if you don’t have it, you are stealing.” He explained that when you show up late and other people are waiting on you, you are stealing their time. He said that it was a total lack of consideration for others and one of the most discourteous things you can do. Then he turned to me and said “Don’t you agree, Bill?”

I nodded in agreement, thinking to myself that I had never thought of myself as a thief before. As I drove home from work that night, I did some self analysis. I decided that one of the main things I needed to change about myself was to become more punctual. I’m nearly sixty years old but I think I still have enough time to change this negative behavior into one that will make me a more productive part of whatever team I am on. Work, church, Scouts, whatever, will benefit if I can change into a more punctual person.

Scouts, I think being late is a habit that people get into and then rationalize it will all kinds of excuses. Learn now to be punctual. Plan ahead. Take traffic into consideration. Figure out how much time you will need to get to where you are going safely and on time. Don’t get into the same habit I find myself in. Be punctual.

“Don’t be a thief of time.”

© Bill Shaffer 2004

The Ghost of What Might Have Been

Scouts, I heard a great story once. It was about a man who had an evening to himself. His wife and kids had gone to a church Bible study and he got to spend the time alone. It seemed so quiet in the house. It was never this quiet. The man sat in his favorite chair and fell asleep.

He awoke with a start. He could hear someone in the next room. Thinking that it was an intruder, he slowly got up and made his way quietly down the hall. A man was sitting in a chair and he was painting a picture. It was a beautiful picture of trees and mountains and a gentle stream. And it was also vaguely familiar. The man was almost sure that he had seen this painting before. And then suddenly, right before his eyes, the man and the painting disappeared.

The man went back to his favorite chair. He dropped off asleep again. He woke up hearing someone singing in the next room. He looked at the clock on the table by the chair to see what time it was. Maybe his wife and kids were home and he just hadn’t heard them come in. But it was still too early for them to be home. The man got up and went down the hall again. He listened to the song. It was a beautiful song. And it, like the painting, was strangely familiar. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it but he knew he had heard that song somewhere before. He turned the corner to see the same man standing in the center of the room. The stranger was singing. But suddenly he disappeared.

The man was disturbed now. A strange man. A familiar painting and a familiar song. Too creepy! The man looked around his house to make sure that nobody was there. When he was satisfied that he was alone, he went to his chair and fell asleep. He woke up this time as he heard a squeak in the next room. He knew what that squeak was. It was his desk chair. Somebody was sitting at his desk.

The man stood and quietly made his way down the hall a third time. As he turned the corner into the next room, he saw the same man sitting at his desk. The stranger was drawing something. As the man approached, he thought the stranger looked vaguely familiar too. Just like the painting and the song. The man looked to see what the stranger was drawing. It looked like an architectural drawing of a building. And it looked familiar as well. He knew he had seen that building before. Where had he seen that building?, the man asked himself.

The stranger turned and for the first time, the man could see the stranger’s face. It was like looking in a mirror at himself. “Who are you” asked the man.

The stranger smiled. “I am you. I am the ghost of what might have been.”

Scouts, I love this story. The man was looking at himself. All the things he had seen were his own unfinished dreams. He had dreamed of writing a song. He had dreamed of painting a beautiful picture. He had dreamed of designing a beautiful building. Those ideas were still inside his head. They might have become reality if he had carried through, but he didn’t. So they remained unfinished dreams.

Scouts, finish what you start. Never give up on your dreams. Make time to develop the dreams in your head. Work hard towards making them happen. So that you won’t be sitting alone sometime in the future dreaming of “what might have been”.

© Bill Shaffer 2004

Happy Valentine’s Day to Louise

Scouts, back when I was in fifth and sixth grade, we had a Valentine Day tradition that I know many other schools had as well. Each member of the class would decorate a grocery sack, with hearts and cupids and gushy Valentine Day stuff, and we would each put our name on the sack we designed. The teacher would line up all the tables on one side of the room and the sacks would be lined up on the table. When Valentines Day came, we would all bring Valentines for other kids and we would find their sack and drop the card in their sack.

It was fun to go home and open up all the cards and see who sent you a Valentine.

But what if your sack was empty? What if nobody in the class sent you a Valentine Card? How would you feel? Well, there was a girl in my class named Louise that didn’t get any cards. Everyone got a card from her but they didn’t send her one in return. She was never asked to any of the class parties and sometimes the kids made fun of her behind her back. She might have been a nice person but I don’t know that because I never took the time to find out. She came to school alone, she ate alone, she studied alone and she went home alone. I never saw her with any friends at all. And I just joined the other kids in laughing and making fun of her. I never even considered how she might have felt.

And you know what? I was a scout back then just like you. I stood up every Monday night and I said the Scout and the Scout Law just like I meant it. I said the words “A Scout is Kind”, and then I went to school the next day and wasn’t kind. How could I do that? How could I say something on Monday, and then conveniently forget that I had said it on Tuesday? That is simply not the way the Scout Oath and Law is supposed to work. Those values are supposed to be in our hearts when we are not in uniform just like they are in our hearts on scout meeting night.

Scouts, you all know somebody who needs a friend. You all know somebody who is on the outside looking in and hoping that someone will take the time to be friendly to them. You all know somebody who could use a kind word and a smile. That’s what makes us human. And that’s what makes us scouts.

“A Scout is Kind” and “A Scout is Friendly” are not just words out of a book that we recite just so we can get a patch on our shirt. Is it alright to forget about being compassionate when you don’t get an award for it? Of course not.

Remember Scouts. Someday you may need a friend. Someday you may need kindness. Someday you may need compassion from others. You need to learn how to give it. Be kind! Be friendly! Be compassionate! That’s what Scouts are. And not just on scout meeting night.

“Louise. Where ever you are. I hope your life is filled with family and friends who love you and appreciate you. I hope that your sack is filled with Valentines. I wish I knew where you were so that I could send one to you and tell you that I’m sorry. You never did anything bad to anyone. You deserved to have people treat you with respect. We didn’t and I’m ashamed of myself. Louise, Happy Valentine’s Day, fifty years too late.”

© Bill Shaffer 2005

Be Prepared

Scouts…every Monday night we stand up and recite the Boy Scout Oath and the Boy Scout Law. But we usually leave out the Slogan and the Motto. I don’t know why we do that because they are very important pieces of the Scouting program.

Last night, I wasn’t sleepy and I was flipping around with the remote trying to find something to watch. I happened on an interview with a man named Mark Cuban. Mr. Cuban is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks Professional Basketball team. He is a billionaire. Just listening to the man talk, it was evident that he has more money than he knows what to do with.

The interviewer asked Mr. Cuban if he could have another sports team in a different sport, what would it be. Mr. Cuban didn’t even bat an eye as he told about his plans to purchase the Pittsburg Pirates Baseball team, but he said that the Pirates were not ready to sell. And he talked briefly about his interest in the Chicago Cubs. It was again evident that he could do this if he wanted. The money was there.

The Interviewer said that it was obvious that Mr. Cuban was very successful and asked him how he got started. That’s when it really got interesting. Mr. Cuban said that he started as a twelve year old going door to door selling plastic garbage bags. He said that the garbage bag job taught him some important lessons about life.

He said that when he went up on the porch and knocked on a door, he had no idea who would answer the door and he had no idea what questions he would be asked. So he researched and learned all he could about those garbage bags so that it didn’t matter who answered the door and it didn’t matter what question they asked because he would have the self confidence to answer any question. Because he had prepared. He prepared enough that he could give himself the best possible chance to sell those bags.

Mr. Cuban went on to say that everyone wants to compete and that everyone wants to win…but very few want to spend the extra time it takes to prepare. Preparation gives you that extra edge on the competition and enhances your ability to seize the opportunity when it presents itself.

Scouts, are you prepared? Are you prepared to be Patrol Leaders? Are you prepared to be a Senior Patrol Leader? Are you prepared for winter camping? Are you prepared to teach a class to a younger scout? Are you prepared for the merit badge class you were in tonight? Are you prepared for the classes in school you will be taking tomorrow? Are you prepared for life? Are you giving yourself, through preparation, the chance to seize the opportunities that will come your way?

Mr. Cuban apparently kept his eye on the prize. He prepared himself for each new opportunity. And he is successful because of it.

Scouts, remember…to be prepared.

© Bill Shaffer 2006

Somebody Slapped My Sunburn!

The troop went camping last weekend and it was wonderful. We had a new scout get sucked into a mud hole down by the lake (he did get rescued!), we had a terrific night game and great food. The weather was beautiful as well. But the most remarkable thing to come out of the March, 2006 campout, was an outstanding message from our troop chaplain at the chapel service on Sunday. I wish I could repeat it word for word but he is an amazing young man and his message was not on paper. It was straight from the heart. The message was so relevant, however, I don’t think he would mind me trying to share it with everybody who might stumble across this website. I will try to do it justice.

He started out by saying that he always got sunburned during his family trips to the lake. He said that he was very white, almost never tanned and that he would burn terribly. He said that his brothers and sisters would get a great kick out of slapping his sunburn. Even his dad got in on the act. It hurt. They knew it hurt and they did it anyway.

Then he said that we all have issues that are much like sunburns. When other people find out about the issues that make us uncomfortable, they enjoy slapping “the sunburn”. They bring up those issues and throw them in our faces, knowing beforehand that we are sensitive about those issues. People who wear glasses, people who are short, people who are overweight, people who can’t afford the latest styles of clothing, people who are slow and not athletic, etc. We are all sensitive to some things and people use the knowledge of that sensitivity to hurt our feelings. Sometimes they don’t understand how badly we hurt inside about those issues, but sometimes they do understand exactly what they are doing.

Our chaplain reminded us that some of those issues are beyond our control like size and speed and weight. Some things can be corrected and some can’t. He encouraged us to deal logically with the things that we cannot change and not react negatively when people try to “slap our sunburn.” I think he was telling us that we should have more respect for each other than to use our personal and often sensitive issues as a tool to put each other down.

It was a great message. For all those people who think one of the laws of the universe is that adults talk and children listen, and that adults teach and children learn, I’d like to point out that that is not always the case. Just as evident in this chapel service, I continue to learn a great deal through the eyes of the scouts I am supposed to be teaching. Sometimes, quite often as a matter of fact, the scouts are wonderful teachers themselves.

I was so lucky last Sunday to have this young man share some of his wisdom with me.

Message…”Don’t slap someone’s sunburn.”

© Bill Shaffer 2006

Life is Like NASCAR

NASCAR. A race. Cool cars. Great drivers. All the drivers have prepared themselves and their cars to give them the best possible chance of winning. They have checked out the course to see where the trouble spots are and they have trained their pit crews to handle anything that comes up. The pit crews have to be able to fix or eliminate anything that slows the car down, giving it the best chance to win the race. Winning the race depends upon the skills of the driver and the dependability of the pit crew.

You know, scouts. Life is like NASCAR. Only, you are the cars. You have to give yourself the best possible chance of winning the race. You have to take a look at the course and decide where you are going and the best way to get there. You have to identify where the trouble spots are going to be and how to get your car past them. You have to give yourself the best possible chance of completing the race and getting to the finish line that you have set for yourself. That’s where parents come in. They give you a chance. That’s where school comes in. School gives you that chance. Teachers, Scout leaders, coaches and good friends give you that chance.

And then there is the pit crew. Again, that’s you. You are your own pit crew. You have to fix or eliminate the things that make your car go slower. That means fixing or eliminating things like your temper, your laziness, your inability or unwillingness to focus in class, your problem with authority figures, your inability or unwillingness to set goals, your negative attitude, and your friends. Friends is a big one. The wrong friends can really slow down the car. The wrong friends can insure that you won’t finish the race.

Remember, finishing the race and getting into the winners circle depends for the most part on how willing you are to fix or eliminate the things that need to be fixed or eliminated. When you lose the race, you can’t blame the things that you could have fixed. You can’t blame your friends for dragging you down. You chose them. It’s not their responsibility to keep your car in the race. It’s yours. Plenty of people will support your choices. Your parents, your teachers, your scout leaders and coaches. And there will be plenty of people there to stand and cheer when your car crosses over the finish line. But remember, they are not driving the car. You are. You’re the driver. You’re the pit crew.

Life is like a NASCAR race. The cars who win are the cars whose drivers prepare for the race. I know you’ve heard that somewhere. “Be Prepared”

© Bill Shaffer 2006

Who’s Your Hero?

Scouts, what exactly does it take to be one of your heroes? Have you ever thought about why you admire someone to the point that you think of them as a hero?

Well, I like sports. I like sports alot. I’ve been a Dallas Cowboy fan forever. It seems like forever. I have an autographed photo and letter in my office at work from Dallas legendary QB Roger Staubach. I loved to watch him play the game. Actually, I have another framed photo on my office wall of the famous “Hail Mary Pass”, Staubach to Drew Pearson. And another autographed photo of Staubach and his legendary coach, Tom Landry. But the question is, “Is Roger Staubach one of my heroes?”

Sometime during each day, I go to the internet and check out the sports stories. I did that today and here are the sports stories listed:

Ex Navy QB says, “I still want to be a Naval Officer” after being suspended from the team.
Miami player returns fire after being shot by teammate.
Senior cornerback leaving Auburn after DUI charge.
Irish coach denies recruiting violations.
Former Wisconsin running back accused of sexual assault.
Duke QB suspended for plagiarism.
Attorney for Barry Bonds wants leak investigated.
Five major leaguers suspended for 50 games.
Jockey faces probe after head butting a horse.
Are you seeing a trend here? These are the “sports” stories. Legal problems abound. College level. This is the garden where our heros are grown. Professional level too. So, if you are as avid a sports fan as I am, you have to ask, “Where are the heroes?” It almost appears that when we buy their cards, we wear their jerseys, hang their autographed photos on our walls, scream their names and clap when they make good plays, go straight to the sports page of the paper to see who won the Masters or the Super Bowl or March Madness or the Preakness or the Bowling Hall of Fame…and pass right by the front page filled with stories that affect humanity…..well, there is something wrong with that.

We see our dads go to work each day, struggling to put a roof over our heads and food on the table and then we go off to school wering the jersey of a guy who makes millions for bouncing a ball. We read about guys who say they can’t live on 50 million dollars a year and we save his cards and watch him play and we almost believe that he should get the salary increase because he caught that important pass in last years Super Bowl…..and we forget about dad who is putting hard earned nickel away for our college fund.

OK. You know I’m getting ready to ask you to really give some thought to who you consider your heroes. But not yet. First, let me give you one more example of a “sports story” from today’s news.

Gamecocks Defensive End sues University for $300,000.000 because they interfered with his chances for the NFL. I clicked on that story, thinking that there might be a Scoutmaster’s Minute in there somewhere and here is what I read. The player was convicted on two counts of 1st Degree burglary and two counts of petty larceny after going into rooms in the University dorm, stealing televisions and VCR’s out of female student’s rooms. He’s suing the University because they apparently kicked him off the football team, thereby “interfering” with his chances to make millions in the NFL.

He lost his chance to make millions, get tennis shoe ads, get jerseys with his name on the back worn by adoring kids all over the country, because the University “interfered” with his chance. He said, “It kept me from playing football which I love. This is pain and suffering.” He actually said that. And he’s suing the school for $300,000.00. The school that was offering to give him an education. This guy had talent. This guy had a chance to be a “hero” to millions of kids. But he lost that chance because of the University? Really? Is the University to blame? No it isn’t. He didn’t lose his chance because of the University. He lost his chance because he stole stuff. He was held accountable for his actions. The school didn’t steal those T.V.’s, The school didn’t make him sneak into somebody else’s dorm room and take stuff. He made that decision. He is now suffering the consequences of his actions. Heroes don’t steal stuff. Heroes don’t blame others for their own mistakes. Heroes learn from their mistakes. This guy isn’t doing that.

Scouts, life is like baseball. Sooner or later you are going to have to get in the batters box and start swinging at the pitches. You hit the ball. Or you miss. Maybe there is something about the way you swing. Maybe your stance needs some work. Your coach makes some suggestions. Your dad, up in the stands, can make some suggestions. Your teammates might offer suggestions. You get up to bat again and you go to the batters box. And guess what? Your coach doesn’t get in the box with you. Neither does your dad or your teammates. It’s you. You’ve listened to the advice of others. You’ve worked. You’ve corrected some things. You’ve changed your stance and your swing. Now you are ready to try again. You don’t blame your stance on your mom or your school. You made the mistake. You learned from the mistake. You fixed the mistake. Life goes on and you are a better player for it.

Scouts, do you get it? I’m making two points today. One, accept responsibility. Don’t blame others. Learn from your own mistakes. And second, think long and hard about your “heroes.” You don’t know what kind of heart beats below those numbers. You don’t know what goes on in that brain inside that cool looking helmet. You don’t know what kind of relationships that guy has with others. You don’t know how he treats his family or his friends. He “might” be a good role model. Maybe! He might be appropriate as a hero. Maybe! But you don’t know that at first. And if he is a hero, it shouldn’t be because he can steal bases or catch balls. Heroes should be about other things.

If you want a hero, look closer to home. Look at your dad. Look at your mom. Look at your Sunday school teacher or your teacher at school. People struggling to give you a better life. They probably don’t make $50 million a year. But they deserve to be up there on that pedestal. They’ve earned the right to be there. They’ve earned it because of their love, their care and their concern…..FOR YOU!!!!

And finally, the question. Is Roger Staubach one of my heroes? And the answer is yes. But not because of football. Football is where I was introduced to this player. And he was good. I so enjoyed watching him play. Fantastic plays, great passes and multiple Super Bowls. But that’s not why he is my hero. Here’s why. He’s a great dad. He’s a great family man. He’s a great businessman. He’s loyal to his school and his former teammates and coaches. He’s a trusted and compassionate friend to others. And that has nothing to do with the game he played.

© Bill Shaffer 2006

Help Other People at All Times

Scouts, One of the parts of the Boy Scout Oath that should be very important to us is the part that says “to help other people at all times.” I contend that it is nearly impossible to help other people at all times unless you are able to look out and see when people “need” help. We live in a very self centered world. People are looking towards themselves. What can I get? Did I make the first team? Will I be a starter? Did I get the part? When the focus is on ourselves, can we really notice when others need our help?Tonight’s Scoutmaster’s Minute is bout a very important word. Empathy. What exactly is that? The Native Americans have a saying that applies here. “You never truly understand another person unless you have walked a mile in his moccasins.” That is a very good description of what empathy is. Feeling what another feels. Understanding another person’s actions by putting yourself in that person’s place.

I got an E-mail the other day. It was from a person that sends me pretty smarmy (I’m not sure that’s a word), Hallmark Card kinds of E-mails that usually end with something like “If you pass this on to ten other people within the next five minutes, the sun will come up in your life and you will receive an unexpected gift.” The E-mails from this person are usually sickeningly sweet and unrealistic, but for some reason I opened this one up and the message in it was perfect for what I am trying to get across to you this evening. I really enjoyed this message and wish I knew who wrote it. I’d like to give them the credit they deserve for this wonderful story. I’d like to tell it to you tonight. Here goes!There was a farmer who had some puppies and he wanted to put them up for sale. He made a sign and placed it on the gate to his farm. Later, he was out working in his garden and he noticed a little boy holding on to the gate and looking through the fence. The farmer went over to say hello and the little boy said “Mr. I’d like to buy one of your puppies.”

The boy dug in his pants pocket and came up with some change. “See, I have thirty-nine cents.” “I’m sorry”, said the farmer, “but these puppies are a little more expensive than that. I don’t think you have enough money to buy one.” “Well, will thirty-nine cents at least give me a look at them?” “Sure” said the farmer. He whistled and the mother dog came bounding out of the barn followed by four of the cutest little puppies the boy had ever seen. They were jumping and running and trying to keep up with their mother as they bounded towards the gate.But then something caught the boy’s eye. There was unexpected movement in the door of the barn. It was a fifth puppy. He was moving slowly, one leg shorter than the others, and was stumbling and falling down as he tried to join his brothers at the gate.
“That’s the puppy I want”, said the boy. “Son”, said the farmer. “You don’t want that one. He can’t run and he can’t play like the others. One of the others would be a better choice” The little boy bent over and pulled up the leg of his pants, revealing a brace that ran from his hip all the way down to his ankle.”Oh, that’s OK. See, I can’t run and play either. And that puppy will need somebody…… who understands.”

Scouts, that’s what empathy is. It’s somebody who understands. My message for you tonight is to look at others and try to understand how they feel. Notice when they are hurting. Notice when they need a helping hand. Notice when they need a friend. That is being a good scout. Scouting has to be more than a badge on your shirt or a sash on your shoulder. Scouting has to be about what’s in your heart as well. Remember, “to help other people at all times” is part of who we are.

© Bill Shaffer 2007