Why oaths, like the Scout Oath, are so important

It’s said by witnesses in court, newly elected officials and couples getting married. It’s taken by physicians pledging to protect patients. It’s essential to being a Scout.

It’s called an oath.

More powerful than a promise, an oath is an unbreakable commitment about one’s future behavior. And, as in each case above, it’s stated aloud in front of witnesses — a fact that further enhances its power.

In Scouting, we stand, raise three fingers in the Scout Sign and recite the Scout Oath: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”

This is meant to be more than a memorized set of words. We should encourage our Scouts to really consider what they’re saying. To consider the power of an oath.

That’s exactly what Dr. Peter Dillon, chairman of the Department of Surgery and Chief Operating Officer of the Penn State Hershey Medical Center, tried to do in a speech in March. 

At the New Birth of Freedom Council’s Hershey Friends of Scouting Breakfast — which raised more than $52,000 in support of local Scouting — Dr. Dillon gave the keynote address.

In it, he discussed the importance of oaths and compared his profession’s Hippocratic Oath to the Scout Oath.

On the Scout Oath, he said:

It is the fabric that binds Scouts together, but more importantly it goes beyond Scouting and reaches into society. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the first words of the Oath are: “On my honor.” Based on our heritage, I can think of no more powerful a personal statement in the English language than that. Three words that define our moral, ethical and philosophic core values. Three words that might be more important today than ever before.

And on the Hippocratic Oath, he said:

By swearing to follow the principles spelled out in this oath, physicians vow to behave honestly and ethically. It has endured because it defines the moral and ethical core values of what it means to be a physician entrusted with the awesome responsibility of another person’s life. It serves as a powerful reminder and declaration that we are all a part of something infinitely larger, older and more important than a particular specialty or institution.

And, like the power of the Scout Oath, the need for physicians to make a formal warrant of diligent, mora  and ethical conduct in the service of their patients may be stronger than ever with all of the challenges we face in health care. We must never forget what medicine’s core purpose is in the first place. A testament to the importance and the power of an oath is the fact that a number of professions have called for a Hippocratic oath of their own over the past few years

He closed his remarks with these words:

All of us have our views on the challenges that face our society today, but suffice it to say that now more than ever we need to reinforce the qualities of honor, trust and the importance of our word as a reflection of moral character and as the foundation on which to move our society forward. The next time you, Scouts and Scout leaders, stand up and say the Scout Oath or you, the physicians in the room, say the Hippocratic Oath, remember, just remember that your word is your honor, your honor is your being and realize how powerful that oath can really be.

You can read the full text of Dr. Dillon’s speech here.

What does an oath mean to you?

How do you help Scouts consider each word of the Scout Oath? Do you use any other oaths in your life or profession? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section.

Story idea via Jeff Spencer, director of development for the New Birth of Freedom Council.

About Bryan Wendell 3282 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.