Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Monday 9 September 2013

Taking the Pledge

... No, not that one.

The first time I swore any sort of oath or took any sort of pledge was when I was eight or nine and I joined the brownies. It was taken very seriously. We memerised the words, we learned what they meant, what we were promising and why, and we held up our fingers in the brownie salute and made our promise in front of Brown Owl and the other girls. Only then were we full members of the pack.
100 years of Guiding

I learned in yesterday’s papers that the words of the Girl Guide pledge, including the ones I recited as a brownie have, after a process of consultation, been changed. 

The pledge used to include a duty to God, and I completely understand why that line has been changed. To be fair, that line didn’t stipulate a Christian God, only ‘God’, which shouldn’t offend brownies and girl guides of other faiths, since most of them worship a God or Gods and there seems no reason for the wording not to be inclusive. The word ‘my’ could have been inserted ahead of ‘God’ I suppose, for clarity, but that might have proven mealy-mouthed. I can only assume that ‘God’ was removed because of the historic implication that a Christian God was implied. 

I suppose that a reference to any God might offend some brownies or girl guides, or, perhaps more particularly the parents of some of those children or some of the adult members of the organisation. Fair enough.

My personal feeling is to be cautious of atheism. To be so utterly confident in a World and a Universe that we still know so little about that a God or Gods absolutely could not exist seems to me to be, at the very least, short-sighted, and at worst perhaps a touch arrogant. I suppose that might be the romantic in me, but there it is.

My concern isn’t so much that the word ‘God’ has been removed from the pledge; my real concern is that a substitution has been made, and, more particularly, that which has been substituted.

The new wording for that portion of the pledge now reads:

I promise that I will do my best...
To be true to myself and develop my beliefs

I’m sorry, but what on Earth does that mean?

Have you ever met an eight year old who isn’t true to herself? Kids don’t have the discipline the foresight or the manners to be anything but true to their childlike and often feral natures. That’s why we nurture and teach them, and hopefully try to bring out in them their best selves. For an eight year old to be true to herself is just about the worst most idiotic thing you can ask her to promise, because she’s pretty well going to do that come hell or high water. (There I go with the God thing again). At the very least, ask her to promise to be her best self! 

Then the brownie or guide goes on to promise to develop her beliefs, which is fine, assuming that her beliefs are benign and enlightened, but we’re assuming that these are nice well brought up girls from nice Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Hindu families, or, at the very least, from nice middle-class liberal families. What if they’re not? What if they’re all survivialists and neo-nazis and satan worshippers...

Of course, I’m being ridiculous.

The Girl Guides is probably a good thing. I know that I had a good time being a brownie. It was about being with other girls, working my way up through a hierarchy, learning some skills I might not otherwise have learned, and being rewarded for learning them. It was about getting out of the house and away from my brothers and sisters on a Thursday evening, and it was about Church parade once a month.

We did all take the pledge and we took it seriously as part of the ceremony that made us one of the club. I don’t know how much the words meant to me as an eight year old, but they should mean something... they should mean something real.

Perhaps it was time to change the wording of the pledge; I just can’t help thinking that someone might have come up with rather better words. This might have been one of those occasions when the Girl Guides might have invited writers or poets to write a pledge and then choose one. I can’t help thinking that lots and lots of writers must once have been girl guides or brownies.

This sort of selection by committee never seems to be very satisfactory, and in this case I believe it’s come up with something that lacks meaning either for the eight year olds taking the pledge or for the older guides and guiders taking it with them. I wonder what my old Brown Owl would have thought. I suspect she’s probably spinning in her grave.

1 comment:

  1. my mum was a brownie leader; my sister a brownie and a guide; my dad was a scout leader; I was a cub, scout, and venturer (what can I say, I tried my best heh, and cut myself a lot).

    when I read that new pledge portion I exclaimed in an unconscious expression of 'what the fuck' that sounded more like "HAHEH!"

    sounds like some of the nonsense that's crept into advertising has borne ill fruit! like something I'd expect from some mindless tampon ad about "being secure in me" or something equally vague and nonsensical. that's without going into the idea of being asked to develop one's beliefs, as the alternative to espousing a belief in something ...

    either way, sounds closer to the Canadian promise
    "to be true to myself, my beliefs and Canada". I dunno what was wrong with duty though.

    I liked the Scout Law more than the promise myself. I wonder if Cubs still squat and flag salute these days? grand howl? does Akela still even get a look in?