Saturday, November 6, 2021

Twelve Words to Live By




Long ago, in a faraway land, folk lived a seemingly simpler way of life.  Doors were left unlocked, children played freely for hours about their neighborhoods without a concern passing through the minds of their parents, and principles of good character were to be admired and rewarded. 


At least that was my experience growing up in a decidedly working-class, post-WWII Pittsburgh neighborhood. The values brought home to me in those years took deep root in my makeup in ways I never fully realized until much later in life.


Like until yesterday. 


Unquestionably my family played key roles in how I turned out (but don’t blame them), as did my childhood friends, and a few teachers, but I’ve known that all along.  What I hadn’t fully appreciated until this week were the subtle effects of childhood organizations that claim us when we’re young and can remain deep in the shadows of our subconscious for a lifetime.


A few days back, as I watched the evening news describe the depressing state of our world—complete with politicians, reporters, commentators, and experts tossing out opinions and promises–twelve words came rolling off my lips.  They were part of an oath I’d not uttered since my early teens and, though I’d repeated them hundreds of times back then, I’d not since said them aloud once. 


They were significant to me as a child, but why did they come streaming back to me now? My practice as a lawyer and writer when confronted with such puzzles has been to let my mind run free, hoping it led me to the answer. I’m happy to say I think this time it did too. 


I don’t know about you, but these days I find myself wondering far more than ever before who to believe. Some people are easy to believe, others are never to be believed. But how do we go about judging the great majority? Mere political labels, academic bios, financial where-with-all, or career credits are not reliable measures of character.  And to me, character counts. 


But how does one determine character?  I offer you a simple method for taking the measure of those who seek your commitment on any manner of subjects, including your finances, safety, children, and vote. It requires a bit of due diligence on your part, but that strikes me as a good thing.


I suggest you cut through the bluster and noise by determining for yourself how they stack up against these twelve fundamental measures of character:




Those elements serve as the foundation for the Law of Scouting. When I belonged to the organization it was called the Boy Scouts of America, though today it’s Scouts BSA.  And, yes, the organization was shamed into bankruptcy by a horrendous sex scandal, but that does not alter the enduring values subscribed to by more than two-hundred-ten-million American children since 1910.  Plus many millions more who’ve been part of world-wide scouting organizations.

For an expanded explanation of those twelve points in practice, this is how each is described on the official Scout BSA website: 

A Scout is:

TRUSTWORTHY. Tell the truth and keep promises. People can depend on you.

LOYAL. Show that you care about your family, friends, Scout leaders, school, and country.

HELPFUL. Volunteer to help others without expecting a reward.

FRIENDLY. Be a friend to everyone, even people who are very different from you.

COURTEOUS. Be polite to everyone and always use good manners.

KIND. Treat others as you want to be treated. Never harm or kill any living thing without good reason.

OBEDIENT. Follow the rules of your family, school, and pack. Obey the laws of your community and country.

CHEERFUL. Look for the bright side of life. Cheerfully do tasks that come your way. Try to help others be happy.

THRIFTY. Work to pay your own way. Try not to be wasteful. Use time, food, supplies, and natural resources wisely.

BRAVE. Face difficult situations even when you feel afraid. Do what you think is right despite what others might be doing or saying.

CLEAN. Keep your body and mind fit. Help keep your home and community clean.

REVERENT. Be reverent toward God. Be faithful in your religious duties. Respect the beliefs of others.

As significant as those twelve words were to me as a young boy, they’re even more so today, for I wonder how many with the power to shape our world gives any thought to them, let alone abides by them.

May they serve you as well a guide as they have for me.



Jeff’s Events


Thursday, November 18, 2021 @ 16:00

ICELAND NOIR, Iðnó Theater

Reykjavic, Iceland

Panelist, Murderous Islands

with Katrin Juliusdottir, Michael Ridpath, William Ryan (Moderator)


  1. Very sound advice, describes you to a "T", as far as I know. My own scouting experience was tainted by having 2 of the 3 leaders be pederasts. Oh, and I can't always do that "cheerful" thing. "Reverent", well, you know.

    1. Ten-and-a-half out of twelve ain't bad. I shall cheerfully pray for you to one day achieve a perfect score, dear Anonymous. :)

  2. Definitely good rules to live by. Or at least to try to live by.

    1. I agree, Michael. The key element is the trying!!

  3. Wonderful post, Jeff, and absolutely on the nose. I'm sad to report that, on a scale of +1 to -1, the Previous Guy scores a -12. Big surprise.

    1. Funny, EvKa, I thought the same thing--but only after I'd written the post

    2. Stan, do you happen to know the symbol for negative infinity?

  4. I always liked Maya Angelou's words of wisdom: "When someone shows you who they are, believe them."
    That goes for charlatan politicians and presidents.

    1. I'm right with you on that score, Kathy! Disregard their words and actions at your peril...or, too often these days, at our Nation's peril.