Value of Little Customs




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by Ernest Thompson Seton 

For what do we go to College--information or atmosphere? At first, one is inclined to say information, but thoughtful teachers usually concede that atmosphere is more important, because atmosphere instills principles, ideals, friendships, high standards, which cannot elsewhere be got, whereas information can be dug out of books.

A similar remark applies to camp life. Summer camps are virtually summer colleges. One may learn there to swim, to paddle, to know the trees, but one is a larger gainer if one get good methods and traditions that will serve through life.

As I have studied the work and studied the camps, I am impressed by the fact that not a little of the formative, helpful atmosphere is created in camp by little customs. A hundred things which in themselves seem unimportant, are the breeders of the subtle something that we call atmosphere.

For example, the little custom in Woodcraft camps of never crossing the Council Ring except by official request, of never sitting on the Council Rock unless one has reached a certain Woodcraft status, of never passing without removing a scrap of paper lying in the woods,--all tend to make one respect the Council Ring and its traditions, or to make one glory in the sanctity of the woods.

In many public schools, --I might almost say in all of them, --I have found a body of little customs peculiar in themselves, in which they take pride and are careful to continue by tradition; and these customs, though sometimes absurd, do nevertheless, build a pride in the school and incline one to follow after its ideals. For example, in one great school, I found that no boy was allowed to wear his trousers rolled up at the bottom till he had passed his first year. No one was allowed to sit on a certain high fence which gave a good view of the ball-ground till he had reached his second year. No one was allowed to carry a walking cane in public till he had reached his third year. Other customs, equally puzzling on the face of them, refer to the pronunciation of certain words.

My first reaction was against these things, but when I saw how they worked out, the pride the boys took in them, because they were inwrought with the ideally high standards of the school, I was forced to acknowledge their power.

Not long ago, the President of a great University asked me what my attitude was toward secret societies. I told him they were the inevitable expression of a deep-rooted gang instinct which is fundamental in the human race. It is impossible to suppress them. All attempts to do so have simply made them secret. Therefore, I should accept the inevitable and utilize the vast occult power there is in them by seeing to it that the traditions of the fraternities and their ideals be of a kind to continually uplift the standards of the University. When asked for details, I suggested: Supposing that such and such a Greek letter group make it their boast that never once has any one of them failed in some measure to respond to the cry of Alma Mater when she was in any kind of trouble, financial or political; or if he could quietly inculcate as the boast of another group that not a member of it had ever been plucked, he would be using all the power of the gang instinct and the dynamics of atmosphere for the glory of the larger institution.

Now, to apply this to our camp life. In one camp, I slowly introduced a new mode of thought by getting a big garbage barrel and establishing the custom that no one pass that barrel without putting in some waste paper, glass or rubbish that he had picked up in the woods near by. In another I suggested that they glory in the fact that no boy ever spent three months in that camp without learning to swim. In another, a helpful ideal was set up when we suggested for a boast that none of their number had in any measure at any time started a dangerous fire.

Human nature inevitably runs to little customs. These are born of various things-local conditions, successful leaders, etc. They are not necessarily obvious but they are enormously powerful. Customs in themselves of negative value or even objectionable, can often be used to construct a wholesome atmosphere if the leader of the camp knows his business.

The Birch Bark Roll 






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Game with a Purpose ] Spirit Scavenger Hunt ] Scout Law History ] Learning Scout Law ] Woodcraft Laws ] B-P Law & Promise ] B-P Scout Motto ] B-P Salute Sign Badge ] Timberwolf Promise & Law ] Otter Promise & Law ] Traditional Variations ] The Order of Nature ] Boy Pioneers Constitution ] Scoutmaster's Benediction ] BSA as Religious Org ] Good Deeds ] What is a Boy Scout? ] A Scout is Reverent: ] When Others Say "God" ] On Patriotism ] Flag History & Care ] [ Value of Little Customs ] B-P & Nature Knowledge ] Religion of Backwoods ] Baden-Powell on Religion ] B-P Fundamental Ethics ] Letters to a PL ] Pantheism ] Evidences of Christianity ] Within My Power ] Has God in Him ] Matthew 19:13,14 ] Matthew 25:3146 ] Kingdom God Within You ] B-P Badge + Sign ] BSA Congressional Charter ] Scouting in 1938 ]

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.