Like a ton of little kids sucked into the idea that the Boy Scouts of America knew what was good for us, I signed up for Cub Scouts and was assigned to a neighborhood den.
Dutifully, to the best of my ability, I followed instructions in the Cub Scout manual to earn badges. There was a sense of accomplishment in doing so. That much I’ll admit.
Then one summer afternoon our den was out playing kickball in an open field near the Den Mother’s house. I was a wicked good kickball player as a rule, and I didn’t like to lose. Which is why, as I was about to roll the ball from the pitcher’s position to the opposing, I saw from the corner of my eye that the runner on first base took off running the moment the ball left my hand.
The rules had been clearly laid out before the game. No stealing. No leadoffs. No leaving base until someone kicked the ball.
The player at home plate completely missed the ball. But there on second base stood the runner that had left the bag at first when I pitched the ball. “You need to go back to first!” I told him, pointing at the bag.
“Nuh uhhh,” the player on second replied. The other players froze, not knowing what to do with someone so brazenly willing to lie about the game and its rules.
“You go back to first or I’ll make you!” I told him.
At that moment one of the players from the opposing team ran across the street to get the Den Mother. I was arguing with the player at second when she arrived on the field.
“What’s this about you trying to start a fight?” she scolded me.
“He cheated,” I said sternly. “He stole second when I pitched the ball.”
“That doesn’t give you an excuse to start a fight,” she warned, grabbing me by the shirt.
I tugged away and glared at the player on second. He made a face.
“I quit then,” I replied, turning defiantly to the Den Mother. “If you like cheaters, then I quit.”
Then I walked off the field and trudged all the way home on my own. I knew my way around the neighborhood. That was no great risk.
When the Cub Scout Den Meeting arrived the next week, my mother called up the stairs, “C’mon Chrissy,” she called me that. “It’s time for Cub Scouts!”
“I’m not going. They cheat,” I told her.
My mother came upstairs to hear the whole story. I clearly explained the disagreement over the rules. My mother understood. She could have made me go back and apologize for threatening the other player I suppose. But my mother knew that I had a strong sense of justice earned from repeated interactions with my brothers. We simply never cheated or got punished if we did. Granted, I could throw occasional fits of wicked anger and tears, but at least I was trying to sort right from wrong.
So I never went back went back to the Cub Scouts as a kid.
Professional Boy Scout
Years later I was recruited by friends to work for the Boy Scouts of America as a district executive. Perhaps it was a closeted attempt to reconcile my earlier misgivings in life. But history repeated itself.
I worked there for three months before discovering that several of the other DE’s were cheating on their enrollment numbers. They filled out membership forms for youth in their districts, paid their annual fees and sent the paperwork to the national office. They cheated.
That was just like leaving from first base before the pitch was made. It was stealing second when it wasn’t allowed.
And just like earlier in life, when I met to discuss the problem with the executives running the Council, they accused me, not the other DEs, of dishonesty and trying to cause the Council harm. They even convinced a volunteer adult leader to participate in a scam to discredit me and insinuate that I’d stolen money from a Camporall when I’d gotten home late on a Sunday night from the event and decided to deposit the money early the next morning.
Having watched up close how corruption soiled the organization, it was no surprise to me that the Boy Scouts of America became embroiled in a massive lawsuit for obscuring child sexual abuse by adult volunteers and even professionals. It taught me that the more some people present themselves as good the righteous, the less they can be trusted.
Occasionally I’ve even see people cheating in races in which I was a competitor. Some of that cheating was on purpose and some of it was mistaken. I was in second at a 10K race with a mile to go in the Sycamore Pumpkinfest 10K when the runner ahead of me cut through a park rather than following the path around it. That shaved about 200 yards off the course distance and I was faced with the choice of whether to follow the leader or stick to the course. I stuck to the course. He beat me by 200 yards.
I know life isn’t fair. I know that justice isn’t always served. In many ways and on many days, justice doesn’t even sniff the fresh air of truth.
That’s what I learned from those early experiences in the Cub Scouts and in many later encounters with cheaters in life. They love to get away with it. They relish it in fact. And when they get accustomed to cheating, they grow to admire those who do it best. That’s how we got where we are today. The proof of admiration for cheaters and crooks is all around us. They gaslight and mock and smirk at those of us who refuse to cheat as if we’re the suckers, losers and fools.
Cheaters don’t always prosper
I’ve also seen enough in life to know that cheaters don’t always prosper. The Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church and a host of other self-righteous organizations claiming purity and goodness while hiding the sting of evil behind their institutional prowess. Our government here in the United States is in the grip of a phalanx of cheaters, hypocrite and power-hungry religious zealots. We’re all witnesses to another corrupt chapter in American history playing out before our eyes. Once again, there’s a guy standing on second base smirking at us all. He thinks he’s getting away with cheating. He’ll steal bases as long as we let him, and his teammates are all too happy to cheer him along.
The question is, what are we going to do about it? I say we challenge the cheaters with everything we’ve got in these circumstances. Speak up and speak out. Vote.
Don’t be gaslighted. The truth is eventually revealed when you do. That’s the other thing I’ve learned. There comes a day when we win because perseverance overcomes the deep inner weakness of the cheaters no matter how strong they claim to be. The bullies ultimately do fall. The stealers of second base get caught. The Den Mother realizes how badly she failed in a test of conscience because she stood up for the wrong kid all along.
Rightness will prevail. Are you with me?