Chapter V "To Keep Myself Physically Strong, Mentally Awake and Morally Straight"


"Physically Strong"

A strong body, an alert mind, and a pure unselfish will are the things which this part of the oath promises to cultivate to the greatest possible extent. The three things belong together, because the body is the outermost part of a man; the mind is contained in the body, in the sense that it works through the brain; and the will or spirit is the inmost part of the man, or his very center, which lives forever, in which his deepest purposes come into being, and by which he may keep in communication with the will of God. Thus we see that these three promises are really one promise, and being morally straight in its deepest sense includes them all; for to make our moral purpose efficient and useful, our minds must be as wide-awake and penetrating as possible; and, to carry out the plans which our minds think out, or the orders which we receive from other minds, we need strong and healthy bodies.

It is especially important, while we are growing boys and young men, to develop our muscles by athletic sports or gymnastics, so that they will attain a good degree of hardness and strength. To do this, it is not necessary to become a star athlete in any particular line, but to get into the habit of running, or rowing playing baseball and football in their seasons, sufficiently to keep our muscles from getting weak and soft. It is not the muscular development in all this which is most important, but the strengthening of the vital organs such as the heart and lungs, etc., which is incidental to muscular training. The habit of taking a good, long walk every day, from six to eight miles when possible, is an invaluable asset for getting the body into proper training for life. This training is very different from that which athletes go through for the sake of competition in college or professional sports, but it is very valuable in the long run, and it is far less trouble to learn to practice as a matter of course.

Men who have had this sort of informal but steady out-of-door physical training in their youth feel the benefit of it later on in middle and old age. They may, at times, lose strength from illness or over-fatigue, but it is always easier for them to regain their strength because of the reserve they have laid up in their youth.

When the spirit of competition in athletic sports develops beyond a certain point, and men really care to win more than they enjoy the game, the physical exercise is accompanied by a nervous strain which is injurious and sometimes results in enlargement of the heart. Athletic sports are very useful as a means of helping us to keep our bodies strong, but the more we play for the fun of it and the less we play for the sole purpose of beating our opponents, the healthier will be our exercise, and the more good we shall get out of it for body and mind.

One of the best forms of moderate exercise is going for a few miles at scout's pace every day, and this, as we know, is jog-trotting and walking alternately for a certain number of paces. When one gets used to going along in this way, it becomes a very pleasant habit, and it is something that one can keep up for a long time, and also make use of doing errands and carrying messages.

The Boy Scout Manual gives useful directions for the care of the body which it is not necessary to enter into here in detail, -- such as keeping the body clean, keeping the bowels open, changing wet shoes and stockings and other wet clothing as soon as possible, not swimming or bathing after meals, not eating unripe fruit, keeping wounds and scratches clean, so as to avoid blood poisoning, etc. etc.

One or two other things I would like to mention. The first is the habit of deep breathing. If we stand habitually with an erect carriage, chest up and the body plumb, we make room for the lungs to expand in the chest cavity down toward the abdomen. If we take an interest in breathing deeply, and acquire the habit of taking long breaths, especially when we are in the fresh air, this will bring an ample supply of oxygen to the blood and affect the health of our whole bodies, including that of the brain. If we do this consciously for a certain length of time, it will become a habit after a while, and then we shall be able to do it without thinking.

When we are young, we are very apt to have excellent appetites and good digestions, and we sometimes overload our stomachs without feeling any ill effects at the time; but it is well to remember that our bodies are like well-balanced and delicate machines; if we exact too much work from a strong part of the machine, the effect is often felt afterwards in other parts which are not so strong. If we exhaust the resources of the body by forcing the stomach to do more than its proper share of work, we may find ourselves less able to resist, if we should be attacked by pneumonia or scarlet fever, or even if we should suffer from a very bad cold or be put to any severe physical test.

All vice is a leakage of strength and vitality. It is a form of highly concentrated selfishness, associated with some particular sense or appetite, that destroys the balance of character and undermines all other elements of strength. In the case of drink, the appetite is often supposed to e hereditary; but that fact in itself does not make it necessary that we should submit to it. Every habit formed must have its beginnings, since once it was unformed; and, at this stage, the habit of drink can be entirely prevented if total abstinence is resorted to at the very start. The most dangerous kind of indulgence is that which is private, or indulged with a ew companions as a relief from the sensations of fatigue or depression. A fellow feels a little blue; his pal says, "Come along and take a drink!" and after that, whenever he feels blue or discouraged, he turns to his drink for relief, and so a habit is formed and confirmed.

There is little doubt that the real reason why we are permitted to suffer from depression, discouragement, and all other ills of life, is that we should strengthen our wills and become more manly by rising above these evils with courage and fortitude.

The drink and the drug habits are man and sneaking ways of dodging the work that every moral being has to do, and trying to slide out of our responsibilities unnoticed by the back door. And, like all other forms of cowardice, they defeat their own ends and bring about a far more terrible state of misery than the discomforts they originally were intended to relieve, for the ultimate reactions of indulgence cause the worst sufferings of all.

A safe rule is never to touch spirits, or wine, or drugs at all. If, in case of illness, morphine should be prescribed by a physician, we should be careful, if we take it at all, to stop taking it before it has acquired the force of habit. When it does become a habit, it becomes a vice, and that is the most terrible enemy that a man can be up against, because it destroys him through the weakness of his own will, and any real cure must of necessity be a cure of the will or a building up of character.

To a great extent the habit of smoking, especially cigarettes, has the same evil effects. Apart from the weakening of the nerves, which is its direct result in the years of adolescence or boyhood, the sense that there is some form of self-indulgence upon which we are dependent and which we think we cannot go without is degrading; it makes us feel ashamed of ourselves and weakens our confidence and courage.

Edison, the great electrical inventor, is said never to employ a man who smokes cigarettes.

"Mentally Awake"

Being "mentally awake", or alert of mind, is made more easy when the body is not taxed too heavily by over-eating or over-fatigue, and it is not so easy to prevent "wool-gathering" when we are not feeling well. Mentally awake means having our mind on the job in hand. If I am told to do a certain thing while my mind is "wool-gathering", I am not likely to understand what I am told, and then I am apt to make all sorts of objections to doing it.

"John, go downstairs and ask the janitor to send for a messenger!"

"Why?" answers John. "Where shall I find the janitor? what messenger?" and so on, until his employer gives it up and sends some one else.

A great help toward being mentally awake when an order is given is to take pains to repeat the order before we attempt to carry it out.

"John, go down and tell the janitor that he need not put any more coal on the furnace, and that the elevator isn't working." A few hours later, John's employer finds the elevator still not running, and the heat in his office still increasing.

"John," says he, "didn't you tell the janitor about the elevator and the fire?"

"Oh, yes, sir," says John, "I told him not to put any more coal on the elevator, and he did not seem to know what I meant!"

If John had repeated the order at the time it was given him, he would not have made the mistake.

Another good thing is to report as soon as the order has been carried out. This may prevent misunderstanding and delay in many cases and is especially useful when delay might be dangerous to life.

A ray from the sun which strikes an object on the earth is merely one of many other parallel rays which produce what we call light; but, when we want to get a special amount of power out of the rays in the form of heat, we use a lense, or magnifying-glass, which attracts a number of rays to one point, and so, by concentrating them, magnifies their power of heat and energy. If is just so with our thoughts. When we are "Wool-gathering" or "scatterbrained" our thoughts may go in different directions of their own accord, because not under out control; but, when we gather them together by paying attention to some particular subject, we multiply and increase their strength by avoiding waste. Attention is the strongest habit of the mind, because it is then under the control of the will with a definite aim. It is like a rifle under the control of a steady hand and good, straight eye. When an interesting remark is made by some one else, or a direct order is given, or even when some noteworthy object comes within sight, the attentive mind takes notice at once and hits the mark, before "Scatterbrain" has happened. A special form of the waking mind is known as observation, and the trained eye and ear are opened to hundreds of sights and sounds which entirely escape the notice of "Scatterbrain" and "Wool-gatherer." Some of the most interesting and beautiful things in the world are among the most delicate and retiring; these the attentive eye and ear easily receive and carry to the heart, -- whether in the dim light and stillness of the woods, which are really teeming with varied activity, or somewhere among the many wonderful beauties of the sea and sky.

When intelligent concentration is associated with practical human needs, it becomes efficient service; when it is associated with law, or the representatives of law, it becomes respectful attention and courtesy; when it is associated with the protection of the weak against violence and of innocence against wrong, it expresses the spirit of knighthood; and when it is associated with duty in obedience to God and respect for the religious convictions of others, it becomes humility and reverence which are ultimately the source of the greatest possible human strength.

"Morally Straight"

When people commonly speak of morality or immorality they usually mean one particular kind of morality, namely that which is associated with sex and the relations of men and women to one another. Although the word immorality properly applies to every breach of the moral law, still there is a kind of appropriateness in associating it primarily with this important matter.

The fact is that if we were to select any one subject in the whole of life which has most to do with the happiness and misery of men and women, we would select this subject of sex.

The main reason for this is that the attraction of the sexes for each other is the most powerful social instinct of all; that is the means by which God creates new life in human form; and that it is capable of bringing about the deepest and purest kind of happiness by making happy homes, full of friendship and sunshine. For this very reason its selfish perversions and abuse are fraught with the most degrading and painful kinds of misery both to body and mind.

The workings of this creative principle are found out only among human beings and all forms of animal life, but are very largely in the vegetable kingdom; for many plants have both pistallate and staminate forms which combine to produce new plants of their own kind.

In human life this principle applies not only to our bodies but also to our minds; and when a man an a woman together both want to do right above all things, there is a peculiar power and intelligence in their combined effort which has a more life-giving and vital influence upon their surroundings than any friendship between two men or two women could possible have. This, of course, is the ideal marriage, and can only come into being as a practical influence when the self-control and truth of a man unites in friendship with the self-control and love of a woman. When marriage is an expression of unselfish friendship of this kind, it becomes a clear channel for God's creative power in matters of the heart and mind as well as of the body. Although, unfortunately, many marriages are made in a selfish spirit and turn out unhappily, the principle of marriage must under all circumstances be treated with respect, and its existing obligations must always be fulfilled.

In the unselfish relation of one man and one woman, united to carry out God's purposes, the man learns to know something about all women and the woman something about all men. When they are wholly faithful to one another, it is impossible to overestimate the amount of good they have it in their power to give and to receive.

The achievement and enjoyment of such a marriage as this may be granted to comparatively few; but, when we are young and our fancies naturally turn to the thoughts of love and courtship, it is well to know what it is we are thinking about, what are its possibilities for happiness and power, on the one hand, and for weakness and shame on the other.

It is not necessary here to dwell upon the evils of unfaithfulness and self-indulgence. The newspapers are full of the horrible clashing of wills associated with win and the breaking of marriage ties. There are books recommended in the manual which describe the dreadful consequences of sexual indulgence to both mind and body; but perhaps the worst thing they bring about in the end is the hardening of the heart, the destruction of the power to love unselfishly, and the loss of all the living enjoyment which comes from reverence, and an intelligent understanding of those things which are at once the most powerful, the most delicate, and the most beautiful of all.

It is a mistake to think of purity or chastity as merely not thinking dirty thoughts or not doing dirty and selfish acts. Chastity is, to be sure, the self-control which makes such things impossible, but it is also infinitely more; and we should think of it as a passionate respect for that most sacred thing in life by which God exerts His creative power to keep the race of men from perishing, and to sustain it in the sunshine and usefulness of happy homes.

Every boy, from even an early age, can understand, if rightly taught, that he is responsible for the possession of a sacred treasure which, if reverently and unselfishly guarded, will assure to him the upright and virile consciousness of being a man; and that is the power which God has given him to become a father, when he is grown up. And, just because this power is so sacred, its degradation by any form of sexual sin is terrible in its consequences.

The law of chastity is the true principle of marriage, and all boys and girls may understand and revere and obey this principle, whether or not they are ever married.

As has been said, there are many other ways of being morally straight, which will be dealt within connection with the different scout laws; but, if we are morally straight in this, -- the most important well-spring of life, -- it will give us the power to be morally straight in all other ways, always acknowledging our mistakes when we see them, always picking ourselves up quickly after a fall, and always gratefully relying upon the loving power of our Father to help us.