By Prof. Henry Francis B. Espiritu, University of the Philippines Cebu College
Service—wholehearted selfless service—is one of the foundational pillars of the Scouting movement. Altruistic loving-service is the crux of Scouting, from the beginning of its inception as a service oriented society, up until now. As per Scout vow, service is considered as a sacred duty. However, as I personally observe and keenly reflect the Scout’s zest for service during times of calamities and likewise their creative initiatives for service during ordinary times of peace, I realize that more than duty, it is compassion that motivates the Scouts towards service. Loving-service prods the Scout to serve his community, and loving-kindness inspires him to do something to alleviate the sufferings of humankind. Duty is an essential pillar of a Scout’s understanding of service; but duty if taken solely as the motivating force of service, can become cold, aloof, rigid, and distant. It is selfless love manifesting itself in compassionate and altruistic service that becomes the Scout’s virile prodder in undertaking heroic acts even to the point of personal sacrifice and eventual martyrdom.
Compassionate loving-service—this is what I consider as the true essence of Scouting. To be a real Scout is to be an authentic human person. As human persons, we do not just do something out of cold legalism, nor out of compulsion that arises from a rigidified view of duty. We are spontaneous, warm-hearted, and emotional beings. The feelings of love and compassion are the central emotions that characterize our “humane-ness”. A “humane” person loves to be with others. A truly humane person desires to be loving, caring, and benevolent towards others. It is but human to be charitable to the needy and to take pleasure in seeing the smile of gratefulness from the person whom we have given assistance. There is a transcendental sort of joy when one receives a “Thank you” from a hungry woman after the latter takes a bite of a loaf of bread given to her. The joy of giving is indeed the joy of living. In my encounters as participant observer of Boy Scouts undertaking their bayanihan activities and in my experience as background investigator of Boy Scout projects; I cannot control the flow of my warm tears of joy upon seeing such manifestations of selfless and compassionate service. It is delightful to see Scouts keeping themselves awake for many nights packing up “bundles of joys” made up of foodstuffs, clothes, and hygienic necessities to offer to the victims of natural calamities. Beginning with their rounds of solicitations and culminating in the distribution of these “survival stuffs” to the needy, these Scouts had sacrificed their personal time, resources, efforts, and comforts just to be able to give their loving-service to others. Observing these self-sacrificing acts of these Boy Scouts in the prime of their youth makes me sigh with jubilant relief, murmuring to myself; “Yes, there is still hope for the youth of this country—that is, if they imbibe the lifestyle of service, the Scouting way”. This is what I mean when I say that the way of a Scout is the way of being truly human. This is the beauty of humanity and the loveliness of the Scouting spirit—the sheer delight in being able to give, to share, and to love others even at the expense of one’s own comfort, luxury, and ease.
I received much delight in seeing that a particular Boy Scout—despite his youth—was able to successfully initiate and implement a “micro-scholarship foundation” by selling recycleable materials to the junkshop, and the proceeds of the sales were used to finance the school supplies, uniform, and tuition fees of some indigent students of his school. There are people who are well able and endowed with financial wherewithal to help poor students but did not have the big heart and creative initiative to establish a scholarship fund for the needy. In contrast, this Boy Scout from a public school, together with his fellow Scouts, was able to creatively establish a “small-scale scholarship fund”—such is the force of creativity and societal-sensitivity that Scouting endows to the youth of our country!
Taking into notice the abovementioned exemplary acts of loving concern and altruistic generosity shown by these youthful Scouts to us, callous and jaded grown-ups, let us bring our reflection a little farther. Is being the wealthiest person an automatic guarantee to achieve felicity and bliss? Having achieved what we desire, is this the sure road to happiness? From my observation of the Scout’s sweating themselves out just to serve and the resultant smiles etched on their faces upon their successful rendering of selfless service, I adjudge that the true delight of life and living is not so much in the accumulation of worldly treasures. Freedom for an authentic human being is when one can freely forfeit one’s wealth as a munificent gift of love to those in need. To own the whole world and not being able to learn the grace of generosity would be a grave bondage since one has become a slave to his mundane properties! A rich person, who selfishly clings to his wealth, and in his self-sufficiency forgets the cries of others—such a person is in perpetual shackles of ephemeral things that are simply insignificant toys carrying no eternal significance. Transcendentally speaking, an ordinary Scout who is joyful in his selfless acts of giving is a thousand times better than a heartless and unfeeling millionaire. Indeed, selfless giving, which is a crucial principle in Scouting sets our hearts in the proper direction—the path of altruism and compassion. A truly wealthy person is one who is able to share his blessings with those in need, and whose giving is devoid of any ulterior motives or selfish aggrandizements.
Indeed, this is what makes our being human a beautiful experience—when we are feeling the joy and ecstasy of selfless giving. This bliss is also the joy of Scouting as compassionate service. We experience inner elation and spiritual pleasure when we give something, when we help someone in need without any consideration of resultant rewards or desire for acknowledgment and recognition. It is certainly a lovely human experience to acknowledge indebtedness and to be grateful for the service given. For the Scout, a plaque of recognition for community service, a medal of valor for heroism, a merit badge for benevolence; these are only added joys in Scouting, these should not be consciously sought in exchange for services rendered. Awards given in recognition to our service warm our hearts but we should not permit these tokens of recognition to be the moving impetus of our service. If we do things to be recognized, all our acts would be sheer hypocrisy, these would not be acts of loving-service anymore, these would not be altruistic acts of giving; these would already become something like bank transactions, business exchanges, or venues of job promotion. If we consciously long for reciprocity for every service we have rendered, we have not truly served—we have simply dressed-up our conceit in the guise of service.
For a genuine Scout, happiness comes from selfless generosity. A bonafide Scout does altruistic acts of love; and he is not interested whether his kindness will be recognized or not. A Scout knows that to be hungry for public applause is a great obstacle to service. If a person serves only on account of public recognition, then such a one will never do something if nobody is watching him. As soon as the bat of self-aggrandizement comes in, the dove of sincerity flies away in horror. When one is so obsessed in the search for public acknowledgment of ones’ goodness, this obsession will become another shackle of one’s freedom and availability to serve. A person who constantly hankers for recognition lives a bitter life of self-centeredness and egotism. As I already pointed out, there is nothing wrong with people appreciating somebody else’s goodness and generosity, there is nothing wrong with giving awards for an excellent service—a Scout can of course smile in gratitude for these awards, but these should not be the objects of the Scout’s acts of service. A Scout renders service out of compassion and tender regard for the needs of suffering humanity—never for a breakable trophy or for a gold-plated medal. Love alone should be the motivating force of a genuine Scout’s wholehearted service.
Egotism is based on the neurotic plea for unhealthy and selfish businesslike reciprocity. In contrast, selfless love is an altruistic love, a love so pure that it knows no bounds. Selfless love is unitive—it does not recognize an “I” and a “you”. It wishes for others what it desires for itself. Selfless love is unio mystica (mystical communion)—it does not distinguish the “other” as “an-other”; it sees itself in the “other” to the point of being able to give up its “all” to the “other”. Egotism is “separate-ness”; it is always based on the rigid duality of “mine” and “yours”. When we are selfish, there is divisiveness, separation, duplicity, and discrimination. In contrast, selfless love is a communion—a profound fellowship of heart and spirit. Deep in our being, we long for union because we are tired of living in the world of selfishness, duplicity, and hate.
The vigor of Scouting lies in the power of selfless love. Take for example the case of the Boy Scout from Mindanao, Aris Canoy Espinosa, who in his tender childhood sacrificed his promising life for the sake of other children. Aris courageously shielded other children from an exploding grenade. Aris, in his martyrdom, clearly shows that a real Scout is willing to surrender his own life for the sake of others. Alternatively, take the case of Valeriano Abello, a youth Scout from Leyte, who saved his barangay from being bombed by the American navy ship. During World War II, the Americans mistakenly identified his barangay as a Japanese stronghold. Risking his life, Valeriano swam towards the navy ship, asking the Americans not to bomb his village. What is the impetus for Aris’ heroically sacrificing his very own tender life for the sake of the other children? What is the explanation of the brave and daring act of Valeriano in facing cannons and bombs just to save his village from the American volleys of fire? The answers to these questions lie in the ideology of Scouting. The strength of Scouting is selfless altruistic love. This is the kind of love that produces martyrs and heroes despite childhood and youth. This is the kind of love that does not make a distinction between the welfare of oneself and that of another. This is the love that gladly relinquishes one’s life so that others may live—a love that knows no bounds; hence, a love that is truly free! Herein lies the force of Scouting. When a Scout can forget ones’ personal comforts and in selfless love offers his very own self for the sake of others, then and only then can he claim to be a Scout. A genuine Scout truly “scouts” (i.e., searches, finds, discovers) for the welfare of others, and sacrifices his very own interests for the sake of others.
Despite its stringent demand for a life of altruistic service, what makes Scouting click? Why is it that today’s youth still want to be involved with Scouting? For the same answer that one still wants to give his piggy-bank savings to a child dying with cancer, for the same reason that there are still warm-hearted persons who generously give their last loaf of bread to a beggar, for the equal reason that there are still many kind-hearted persons who donate their bone marrow, kidney, liver, and cornea for those in need of these organs? Why do people endure these botherations? This is because there are still persons who want to remain human and humane despite the coldness and heartlessness of this tired old world of ours. Authentic generosity is a characteristic attribute of a human person. One can never efface altruism for as long as there are persons who strive to remain “authentic persons” in this worn-out and morally dilapidated world. The more I contemplate on the mystery of our being human and strive to fathom it, the more I realize how vast and awesome the powers of goodness, compassion, and generosity are. It is altruistic love that enables a person to reconnect himself once again to his original state of pure goodness.
Loving-service, authentic generosity, loving-kindness, joyful giving—these are the traits of a “humane” person. Scouting is sure to remain despite the sorry state of our selfish and materialistic world because in their heart of hearts, the peoples of the world still long for goodness and communion with other humans. Scouting brings joy and delight into people’s lives because by nature, humans celebrate the beauty of self-giving, they still believe that compassion is possible; likewise, they cherish the hope that humans can still be selfless in their dealings with fellow humans. It is Scouting that points out to the rediscovery and renewal of these humane qualities. It is my fervent hope that young people will take the altruistic way of Scouting. Compassionate service, which is the life force of Scouting will—hopefully—initiate the youth of today to the process of becoming genuinely loving persons who are deeply vulnerable and sensitive to the feelings and welfare of others.