A couple of years ago, I was asked to attend an Eagle Scout graduation interview.
I was distinctly unqualified for the honor. Not only am I not an Eagle Scout, I have a shameful scouting history — one year in the Cub Scouts, sans half its badges, and two weeks in the Webelos circa 1973.
We Webelos were asked to jump five feet from a standing spot in the basement of a friend’s house. I couldn’t do it; an otherwise terrific kid named David Geen called me “athlete” to the considerable amusement of our fellow scouts (the nickname stuck); I punched him in the throat, and that was pretty much that. Whispering moms; the talk: “Maybe the scouts aren’t for you, Billy,” followed by free Wednesday afternoons after school to set off firecrackers in the neighborhood. Fair trade at the time.
So when a neighbor’s son, a better young man than I was by a hundredfold, asked me to sit in on his interview 40 years later, I was moved by it more than he could have known. He saw this former screw-up as someone honorable enough to take part in a considerable life achievement — that, or he panicked and named the first adult male he could think of.
Talk about feeling out of place. I was the only non-scout around the table; I didn’t even have the ol’ Wolf Patch to bear. Adding to my unease was the surprise announcement as we stood somberly awaiting the candidate’s entry into the room, “We’ll be doing four rounds of questioning, so pick your best four, gentlemen.”
Your best what?
When the time came for me to ask a question, I figured I’d throw the kid a softball. It was the least I could do. I asked, “So how have your years of scouting influenced the way you treat girls?”
Turned out to be a curveball.
He had no answer. Nor did anyone else in the room. Indeed, one of the scout leaders blurted out, “now that’s a great question!,” making me feel both very pleased with myself and like a jerk to my now glowering teenage benefactor.
I mention this not to criticize the Boy Scouts — at all. The Scouts have being helping form some of the finest men in America for more than 100 years. My point is that boys — even the best ones — may not be sufficiently instructed in how to treat girls. Perhaps more important, they may not be sufficiently instructed in how to deal with fellow boys who treat girls badly. I don’t know if girls being admitted to the Boy Scouts, as was announced this week, is the right answer — a subject for a later time.
The outing of Harvey Weinstein this week as a malicious creep was a wonderful thing for America, and not just for American women. It served notice to men in power everywhere that no one is immune to exposure anymore. It also sent a clear right-and-wrong message to formative boys who, along with their female peers, will be tomorrow’s leaders.
Two of the last four American presidents have been accused of serial sexual assault. We’ve got a lot of work to do to prepare tomorrow’s leaders, one young person at a time.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.