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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: April 2024

Life Lessons from Boy Scout Camp

Stanley Peter Jaskiewicz


  • Boy Scout rules are a great guide for living a life of courtesy and respect for others, whether at home or at work.
  • How does the Scouting rule of “leave no trace” apply in the office?
Life Lessons from Boy Scout Camp

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I first planned this article early in the Pandemic, when “returning to the office” was just a faint hope, not a reality.

But changes in work habits, and in the economics of the office leasing market, have made that day a moving target for many firms.

Although it remains in the distance for many, not so for me. 

I have been in the office full time, five days per week, since June 1, 2021, wearing a KN95 mask, and our firm-branded cloth mask, to be safe because of my medical history.

Although our society is in a much different place today than at the height of the Pandemic, I think that my observations on office etiquette still ring true.

Perhaps that is because I learned many of them when I had the privilege of accompanying my son to Boy Scout camp.

He has a disability, and I was there to help him with challenges arising from his disability.

I wanted to let him be a boy with his peers.  I even insisted he tent with another Scout, not with me.

But as an adult at camp, I could also be a resource for all the Scouts. I am a merit badge counselor (Disabilities Awareness, Journalism, and, not surprisingly, Law, if you are curious).  However, I was another trained adult leader to be present when needed under youth protection rules.

Therefore, as a Scout leader, I had to follow many of the same day-to-day Scout rules that he had to memorize.

But I also learned many of the unwritten rules of life to which he was oblivious.

I find I still live by those rules to this day, particularly at work.

Not only are those rules a critical basis for the structure at the heart of the camping experience, but they are also great guidelines for living a life of courtesy and respect for others, whether at home, or at work.

By the time my son became an Eagle Scout, Scouting’s “hidden” rules had become so ingrained in me that I quoted them regularly.

Such as my first day back in the office, on June 1, 2021. 

As I had done each day before the Pandemic, I went to our office kitchen, to rinse out my lunch containers.

But I had to laugh when I got to the sink.

Just as I had often found before COVID-19, the paper towel dispenser was empty – even though our office had not been open for over a year. 

As I had often done at camp (and still do today at work), I replaced the roll from the new rolls stored in a cabinet by the sink – and realized my first rules for this article:

“Clean up after yourself, and others too (whether you made the mess, or not).”

“If you use the last piece of paper on a roll, replace it – don’t leave an empty rack for the next person.”

(The same rule applies to the “other” roll of paper, whether at camp, or in the office restroom.)

Another office rule arises from what happens at the end of every Scout camping trip – policing the site.

For those not familiar with closing a campsite at the end of a trip, let me set the scene.

Everyone is tired from several days of activity. Sleeping outdoors in a tent, on the ground, or on a cot, overstates the meaning of “sleep”.

The air is full of nervous energy. Everyone is eager to get on the road home, to the comforts of civilization – a shower, a nap, and a real meal.

Parents wait in their cars for the Scouts to be dismissed. You can’t avoid the smells of coffee and convenience store snacks far tastier than whatever leftovers the camp had served as a getaway day breakfast.

But first, all the Scouts must “walk the site,” to honor Scouting’s “leave no trace” rule. 

Everyone lines up, close enough to cover one side of the camp.

The line then begins moving across the campsite, picking up anything that was not there before the trip.

To be certain, the Scoutmaster, or an assistant, does a final walk – and almost always finds something missed in the haste to go home.

Whether a tent peg that fell out of a tent bag, a food wrapper from a last-minute snack, or a forgotten mess kit, the only thing that remains on the site should be what nature put there.

(Sometimes a leader may have provided an incentive for a thorough check – a $5 bill “lost” in the woods.)

So how does that Scouting ritual apply in the office?

Who hasn’t walked past a stray piece of paper or paper clip on the floor in an office hallway, whether at another firm, or in your own office?

How often does a crumpled ball of paper sit on the floor next to a trashcan, because a shot was missed?

Why can’t those leaving the restroom put their used paper towel in the trash can by the door?

Whether or not you put the trash on the floor, you should certainly pick it up - and make sure it gets into the trash can.

Whenever I see trash on the ground at another firm, I wonder what that says to its visitors and clients about its work product. 

Nonetheless, I just pick it up, just as I was trained to do at the end of each Scout camping trip.

Every camping trip I attended also had a duty roster of chore assignments for each day of the trip. 

If you were there, you had to help out, whether as a dishwasher, or a dining hall waiter. 

And no one got out of cleaning the latrine.

One year, at a new camp, our unit loudly announced its presence walking to breakfast one morning. 

I quickly learned from the more experienced leaders that such behavior would never happen again, if our unit ever wanted to return to that camp.  Culture always trumps displays of pride.

A final rule has great personal resonance for me: “If you’re not early, you’re late.” 

I have commuted by public transit since 1974. 

I have learned – while watching a vehicle drive away, without me – that published schedules are an approximation, not a guarantee. 

I should have planned to arrive earlier if I needed to catch that particular ride – just as Scouts had to arrive on time for merit badge sessions, dining hall meals, or other camp activities.

In the workplace, these rules can all be easily summarized: take personal responsibility for your own actions.  Don’t leave something that needs doing for someone else or blame others for your own mistakes. 

An internet cartoon I have seen states this rule even more simply:

“Listen, you’re at work, so that means you’re an adult! So wash your own dishes!” 


For those who may not have had the privilege of experiencing nature first-hand, especially with one’s own child, several authors have faithfully captured the outdoors experience:

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (Official Guides to the Appalachian Trail) by Bill Bryson

Scout's Honor: A Father's Unlikely Foray into the Woods by Peter Applebome 

I have frequently used this quote from Scout’s Honor when asked to give a benediction at a Scouting event, but I have found it comforting in my life generally:

“Troop 1 has been coming to this place for many years.  But this group and this day will come just once.  I hope you remember this day for many years and the good friends you shared it with.  May the Great Master of all Scouts be with us until we meet again.”