Lord and Lady Baden-Powell: Character Builders
August 14, 2009
By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
As I was taking our three sons toboganning up Mount Seymour, I saw the Baden-Powell Trail, and was reminded again of the lasting impact that the Baden-Powells have on our society.
From the very beginning, Lord and Lady Baden-Powell were committed to making a significant difference in the lives of young people. They saw the effect of our industrialized, urbanized society: the decline in physical health, the erosion of moral standards, the loss of self discipline. Robert Baden-Powell (B.P. as he is affectionately known) returned from South Africa in 1903 as a war hero.
He had bravely defended the South African town of Mafeking with only a small band of soldiers for 217 days. During the siege, he used the boys of the town as messengers, first aid attendants, and other vital jobs. These boys, who were the first prototype of the boy scouts, played a vital part in saving a beleaguered town. The Boer War as a whole was a great embarrassment to the English nation. Their troops performed poorly and inefficiently. B.P.’s 217 day defense of Mateking provided a bright spot in an otherwise dark period.
Restoration And Renewal
When B.P. returned to England, he was appalled at the deterioration of morale in English youth. He described ‘thousands of boys and young men pale, narrow chested, hunched up, miserable specimens, smoking endless cigarettes, numbers of them betting.” He was also concerned about the rampant sexual immorality, resulting in disease, poverty, and unwanted children. B. P. the war hero wanted to use his popularity to help rebuild the vitality and dynamism of young people. The amazing popularity of his scouting movement probably surprised B.P. as much as anyone else.
Within one year after writing the best seller ‘Scouting for Boys’, over 100,000 boys had already enrolled as Scouts. The scouting movement quickly crossed the seas to numerous countries around the world. King Edward VII was very interested in scouting and suggested that B.P. give up his army career and devote all his time to scouting worldwide.
After meeting the future Lady Baden Powell on an ocean cruise in 1912, Robert and Olave Baden-Powell were married in a quiet church wedding that same year. The two formed a powerful alliance that has unforgettably shaped the character of countless young people throughout the world. At Robert’s request, Olave took on the leadership of the floundering Girl Guides movement. Under Olave’s loving and capable direction, the Guiding movement exploded with new energy and growth.
Thanks to this remarkable husband/wife team, over 17 million boys and 8 million girls worldwide are now involved in the scouting/guiding movements. Some people mistake the scouting/guiding movements as merely a recreational diversion for rambunctious children, In fact, Robert and Olave B.P. saw recreation as merely one of many tools to build lasting character. B.P. saw scouting/guiding as “… education in high ideals, in self reliance, in sense of duty, in fortitude, in self respect and regard for others in one word, in those Christian attributes that go to make character.”
Robert and Olave B.P. believed that character could not be imposed from outside. Character and self-discipline had to come from within. Character building for the B. P.’s had a lot to do with trustworthiness, honesty, loyalty, duty, responsibility, friendliness, courtesy, thriftiness, and moral purity. Robert and Olave believed that the heart of character building came from loyalty to God and country. That is why in the very first part of the Scout/Guide Promise, they built in “doing one’s duty to God”.
Olave and Robert Baden-Powell were both committed Christians. Olave expressed her Christian commitment by serving as godmother to over 40 baptized children a responsibility she took very seriously. In her autobiography she wrote: “If I have any message to leave, it is this: Believe in God. He guides and protects you all through life …” Robert, when dealing with conflicts in the Scouting movement, recommended that people ” … ask themselves the simple question, “What would Christ have done under the circumstances?” and be guided accordingly.” Character building for Lord and Lady Baden-Powell was a very spiritual activity.
Nature’s Storehouse of Wonders
Both Robert and Olave were impressed by the character building impact of taking urban young people away from the city, and back to the great outdoors. At the formal opening of campfire, they had the campers recite Rudyard Kipling’s poem: ‘Who hath smelt wood smoke at twilight? Who hath heard the birchlog burning? Who is quick to read the noises of the night?”
Robert saw camping as a golden chance to bring the boy to God through the direct appeal of Nature and her store of wonders.” He said that “Our aim is to get hold of the boys and to open up their minds, to bring out each lad’s character (and no two are exactly alike), to make them into good men for God and their country, to encourage them to be energetic workers and to be honourable, manly fellows with a brotherly feeling for one another.”
Olave was equally impressed with the beauty of God’s creation. She said: 1 am sure that God means us to be happy in this life. He has given us a world to live in that is full of beauty and wonders, and He has given us not only eyes to see them but minds to understand them if we only have the sense to look at them in that light.”
My prayer for those reading this article is that the inspiring example of the Baden-Powells may encourage each of us to be more thankful for the beauty of God’s world.