Wednesday 19 June 2013

What would the Baden-Powells think?

Last night I discovered how bad the world is at keeping secrets.

At 17:08 on Tuesday 18th June, just as I was getting ready for our last night of term Brownies barbeque, an email pinged into my inbox.  No big deal, I get emails approximately every 7 minutes, 90% of which are spam.  But this one was different.  It was from Girlguiding.  And the subject: Confidential.

I didn't manage to read the email properly until I got home after an evening of protecting a barbeque from 16 small people (yes, it was that way round), but I had an idea what it was about.  Earlier this year, Girlguiding carried out a consultation with all of its adult volunteers, youth members and other related organisations to find out our thoughts about the promise.  The promise is really at the core of Guiding, and underpins everything that we do.  Pretty important I'd say...

As a member of Girlguiding, I have promised to "do my best, to love my God, to serve the Queen and my Country, to help other people and to keep the Guide Law".  This promise has, whether consciously or subconsciously, guided (haha) me through my life since I joined this fantastic organisation as a five year old Rainbow, 21 years ago.  I love Girlguiding.  I love the opportunities it has given me - to travel, to meet loads of wonderful people from all over the world, to learn new skills, to grow and become more confident, to inspire girls to become incredible young women, and most recently, to go to the UN!  But I do grit my teeth whenever someone tells me we're a religious organisation and when I'm expected to say grace before a pack holiday meal.        

So, with trepidation I opened this secret message.  And it was a secret.  Well, it was secret, until the press broke the story and all of a sudden social media went crazy, with members talking about "the thing we can't talk about", and non-members totally misunderstanding (I'm not even going to start telling you how angry I was reading the comments on the Daily Mail article.  There's a reason we don't read the Daily Mail).  

As I opened my email, I knew that exciting times were ahead.  Following the consultation, a new promise has been developed and will replace that which I have lived by for the past 21 years. 
"I promise that I will do my best; to be true to myself and develop my beliefs; to serve the Queen and my community; To help other people and to keep the Guide Law".
There are some parts of this new promise that I love, and some bits that I love slightly less.

As a Guide, I struggled for a long time to accept the "love my God" element of the promise - I'm not religious and don't consider myself to have a belief - but I came to realise that "my God" could mean whatever I wanted it to mean.  It could even be the tree at the bottom of the garden if I wanted it to be.

The spiritual element of Guiding has always been important, from day one when it was grounded in Christian beliefs, to today when all girls from any background are welcome, no matter who they are.  So, even though I don't have specific religious beliefs, I do think it's important to understand and appreciate other people's beliefs and to explore our own spirituality, whatever that means to us as individuals. 

The replacement with "develop my beliefs" scares me a little...  But my problem isn't with the removal of "my God"; it's with the word "develop".  I'm pretty happy with the beliefs (or lack of) I currently have, thank you very much.  But I understand why this is more all-encompassing, more welcoming and more accessible than the previous promise.  So I can live with it, although in my head I will probably replace "develop" with "explore"...  Either way, by changing the promise, we are showing the world that we commit to welcoming everyone, no matter what they believe.  I think that's freaking awesome. 

The thing I love most: "to be true to myself".  Over the past few months, since accepting depression and seeing a counsellor on a regular basis, I have started to realise how making time and space for "Rosy" never comes at the top of my list.  As a Brownie, I promised to "think of other people before myself and do a good turn every day".  Clearly this message, that a "good girl" looks after other people before herself, has stuck somewhere in my subconscious.

Me, aged 7, the day I became a Brownie
As I've started to think about what I need and want from my life, I've started to re-evaluate my interpretation of this part of the promise.  I'm so excited that the new promise encourages girls to remember that they are as important as other people.  I hope that this will remind me that I am as important as other people, and that to be able to really help other people, I need to help myself first

So, although I think it'll take a while to get used to (after all, having one message ingrained into my thick skull for 21 years isn't going to be easy to change - counselling is teaching me that as well), I'm really excited about exploring this new promise and what it really means for girls today.

I wonder what the Baden-Powells would say.  I hope they'd approve.

Just don't read the Daily Mail.  Please.

[NB.  This post is totally my opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Girlguiding or its members.  I understand that others may disagree with me, and that is fine.  Please respect my opinion and I will respect yours.  Thank you.]

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