Uses of Looking the Part

In June, I spent a couple days at cub scout day camp. A couple hundred boys were assigned into seven groups that rotated among the various activities: BB guns, archery, scout skills, Egyptology, nature, etc. The five cubs from my pack were part of a group of thirty which included eight from another pack and twenty-two from a third pack. The packs were responsible for supplying “den walkers”, one adult for every five boys who keeps them organized and attends to any needs that should arise. So, I was one of six adults serving our group, and most of them were parents of the boys in the large pack I mentioned.

Since it was a scout activity, and since I am den leader, I wore my scout uniform on the days I was there. This wasn’t necessary. Most of the den walkers were not scout leaders and didn’t own uniforms; the boys were wearing a t-shirt prepared for the day camp; camp staff were all wearing purple t-shirts that made them identifiable. Mine was one of only a handful of scout uniforms to be seen. A few such are a nice visual detail, though, that add to a scout gathering.

The most interesting thing about my scout uniform was the way it drew the boys in our group to me. For them I wasn’t just one more friendly adult; I was a scout leader. (Call me Akela!) The boys in those other packs saw me as someone to help them in preference to the parents of their den mates, someone who should know what’s going on. I worked to live up to their expectations. I really am a cub scout leader, so it’s fine if those boys expect me to be one. Dress can be a helpful visual cue to let others know that we are there to serve them.

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About John Mansfield

Mansfield in the desertA third-generation southern Nevadan, I have lived in exile most of my life in such places as Los Alamos, Baltimore, Los Angeles, the western suburbs of Detroit, and currently the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C. I work as a fluid dynamics engineer. I was baptized at age twelve in the font of the Las Vegas Nevada Central Stake Center, and on my nineteenth birthday I received the endowment in the St. George Temple. I served as a missionary mostly in the Patagonia of Argentina from 1985 to 1987. My true calling in the Church seems to be working with Cub Scouts, whom I have served in different capacities in four states most years since 1992. (My oldest boy turned eight in 2004.) I also currently teach Sunday School to the thirteen-year-olds. I hold degrees from two universities named for men who died in the 1870s, the Brigham Young University and the Johns Hopkins University. My wife is Elizabeth Pack Mansfield, who comes from New Mexico's north central mountains and studied molecular biology at the same two schools I attended. We have four sons, whose care and admonition, along with care of my aged father, require much of Elizabeth's time. She currently serves the Church as Mia-Maid advisor, ward music chairman, and choir director, and plays violin whenever she can. One day, I would like to make shoes.

5 thoughts on “Uses of Looking the Part

  1. Absolutely. What’s interesting is that there’s nothing inherently “trustworthy” looking about the Boy Scout uniforms. They’re cluttered and an unusual color and not nearly as “business-like” OR “useful” looking as what people in other “trustworthy” positions wear. It’s not so much a visual cue as it is a social cue: a signal of authority and allegiance.

    When you wear a uniform like that it communicates all kinds of things about your abilities, affiliation, attitude, and other traits which may or may not start with “a” — which is one of (several) reasons I find the three-times-a-century uniform changes that the military goes through annoying, and why I appreciate the relative stability in Scouting uniforms (even though, outside of context, they’re kind of silly looking.)

    Insert a perfectly inoffensive, doctrinally sound and clearly communicated reference to missionary attire and wearing white shirts while passing the Sacrament here, please. ^_^

  2. I have trouble encouraging Scouts and adult leaders in LDS troops to wear their uniforms.

    In contrast, Scouts and adult leaders in non-LDS troops almost universally wear their uniforms at their troop meetings.

    I attribute it to three factors: 1) an aversion to “military-type” clothes and activities in LDS wards, 2) basketball, and 3) holding Scouting activities on AP/YW activities nights. When we held our troop meetings on Saturday afternoons, the boys were proud to wear their uniforms (no young women present, and no basketball permitted).

  3. Like I said, R Biddulph, the uniforms are (outside of context) a little silly looking. But then, so are Navy enlisted uniforms — I knew Sea Cadet boys who’d do everything short of actually damaging their classic sailor caps to keep from having to wear them in public.

    From what I understand, part of the uniform issue may come from the Church’s attitude and regulations regarding paying for things (specifically, who pays for things.) On the Primary email lists, there are a few comments a month from leaders who say they’ve given up on uniforms for the younger boys because it’s a budget drain (in these wards, they’re spending more than half of the Primary budget on the scouting stuff alone.) In normal troops, it’s parents and fundraisers that provide financing. I suspect that boys who’ve never or rarely worn their uniforms in the Primary are harder to convert to the uniform experience when they get to YM.

    Also, non-volunteer leadership may take a toll: the most gung-ho happy “let’s all wear our uniform” Scouting enthusiasts are generally not the actual Scout leaders in the wards I’ve been in and visited. My stepfather was a constant force in my stepbrother’s non-Church Boy Scout troop, and loved it, but hasn’t done anything with them in the twenty-odd years that he’s been an active member. They usually call him to be the Stake Family History IT Specialist instead — and it’d be somewhat odd wearing his Scout leader uniform to emergency “we can’t turn on any of our PCs” calls from the FHC.

  4. Sarah’s comment about stability and R. Biddulph’s about “aversion to ‘military-type’ clothes” remind me of the change in scout uniform design back in 1980. Before that, for many, many decades, the scout uniform had been a single olive color. With the new design, the pants are a darker green with big external pockets, and the shirts are tan with epaulettes. I was 14 when this change was introduced, and a year or two later I remember riding with one of the ward leaders, just him and me in his pickup, out of town up to Mt. Charleston for a stake training activity of some sort. (Space for connection like that between men and boys used to be viewed as a good thing.) Brother Prince had his new scout uniform on, and was praising the timeless good looks of the old one and complaining that now we have “these Fidel Castro-looking things.”

  5. What’s funny about that is that to me is, well, Fidel generally wears single-color, only slightly darker than olive green, uniforms, when he’s in a military mood.

    The US military uniform change I hate most of all is the move to digital camouflage. Being able to see the squared off edges of each block of color doesn’t help you blend in, it just makes you look silly. Though I approve of boots that are incapable of being shined, since certain power-drunk leaders had a tendency to demand shined boots with the last uniform.

    Curiosity: why would Mormons be more worried about military uniforms than other populations? I can see individuals being upset about it, and I know my dad wanted my brother and sister in Campfire in part for that reason, but an overall LDS thing? I just don’t see it.

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