Can Scouting provide adults guidance on workplace etiquette? This lawyer thinks so

Stanley P. Jaskiewicz is an attorney for Spector Gadon Rosen Vinci P.C. When he isn’t assisting businesses on a wide range of legal matters, he’s volunteering as the chartered organization representative for Troop 303 and Pack 303 in Upper Gwynedd, Pennsylvania.

During his time spent as a Scouting volunteer — and specifically, one memorable week at summer camp with his son — something dawned on him.

“As a Scout leader, I had to follow many of the same day-to-day Scout rules that he had to memorize,” Jaskiewicz recently wrote in an article published to the American Bar Association’s website. “But I also learned many of the unwritten rules of life to which he was oblivious.

“I find I still live by those rules to this day, particularly at work.”

The American Bar Association was kind enough to allow me to share Jaskiewicz’s story in its entirety here.

(When you’re done, check out this touching piece Jaskiewicz wrote for the Organization For Autism Research about his son’s experience at Scout camp.)

By Stanley P. Jaskiewicz

I first planned this article early in the pandemic, when “returning to the office” was just a faint hope, not a reality.

But changes in work habits, and in the economics of the office leasing market, have made that day a moving target for many firms.

Although it remains in the distance for many, not so for me.

I have been in the office full time, five days per week, since June 1, 2021, wearing a KN95 mask, and our firm-branded cloth mask, to be safe because of my medical history.

Although our society is in a much different place today than at the height of the pandemic, I think that my observations on office etiquette still ring true.

Perhaps that is because I learned many of them when I had the privilege of accompanying my son to Scout camp.

He has a disability, and I was there to help him with challenges arising from his disability.

I wanted to let him be a boy with his peers. I even insisted he tent with another Scout, not with me.

But as an adult at camp, I could also be a resource for all the Scouts. I am a merit badge counselor (Disabilities Awareness, Journalism, and, not surprisingly, Law, if you are curious). I was also another trained adult leader to be present when needed under youth protection rules.

Therefore, as a Scout leader, I had to follow many of the same day-to-day Scout rules that he had to memorize.

But I also learned many of the unwritten rules of life to which he was oblivious. I find I still live by those rules to this day, particularly at work.

Not only are those rules a critical basis for the structure at the heart of the camping experience, but they are also great guidelines for living a life of courtesy and respect for others, whether at home or at work.

Jaskiewicz and his son, Peter

A Scout Is Helpful

By the time my son became an Eagle Scout, Scouting’s rules had become so ingrained in me that I quoted them regularly.

Such as my first day back in the office, on June 1, 2021.

As I had done each day before the pandemic, I went to our office kitchen to rinse out my lunch containers.

But I had to laugh when I got to the sink.

Just as I had often found before COVID-19, the paper towel dispenser was empty — even though our office had not been open for over a year.

As I had often done at camp (and still do today at work), I replaced the roll from the new rolls stored in a cabinet by the sink — and realized my first rules for this article:

“Clean up after yourself, and others too (whether you made the mess, or not).”

“If you use the last piece of paper on a roll, replace it — don’t leave an empty rack for the next person.”

(The same rule applies to the “other” roll of paper, whether at camp or in the office restroom.)

Another office rule arises from what happens at the end of every Scout camping trip: policing the site.

For those not familiar with closing a campsite at the end of a trip, let me set the scene.

Everyone is tired from several days of activity. Sleeping outdoors in a tent, on the ground or on a cot overstates the meaning of “sleep.”

The air is full of nervous energy. Everyone is eager to get on the road home, to the comforts of civilization — a shower, a nap and a real meal.

Parents wait in their cars for the Scouts to be dismissed. You can’t avoid the smells of coffee and convenience store snacks far tastier than whatever leftovers the camp had served as a getaway day breakfast.

But first, all the Scouts must “walk the site,” to honor Scouting’s Leave No Trace rule. Everyone lines up, close enough to cover one side of the camp.

The line then begins moving across the campsite, picking up anything that was not there before the trip.

To be certain, the Scoutmaster, or an assistant, does a final walk — and almost always finds something missed in the haste to go home.

Whether a tent peg that fell out of a tent bag, a food wrapper from a last-minute snack or a forgotten mess kit, the only thing that remains on the site should be what nature put there.

(Sometimes a leader may have provided an incentive for a thorough check — a $5 bill “lost” in the woods.)

Stanley, Peter and Judy Jaskiewicz

A Scout Is Clean

So how does that Scouting ritual apply in the office?

Who hasn’t walked past a stray piece of paper or paper clip on the floor in an office hallway, whether at another firm, or in your own office?

How often does a crumpled ball of paper sit on the floor next to a trashcan because a shot was missed?

Why can’t those leaving the restroom put their used paper towel in the trash can by the door?

Whether or not you put the trash on the floor, you should certainly pick it up — and make sure it gets into the trash can.

Whenever I see trash on the ground at another firm, I wonder what that says to its visitors and clients about its work product.

Nonetheless, I just pick it up, just as I was trained to do at the end of each Scout camping trip.

Every camping trip I attended also had a duty roster of chore assignments for each day of the trip.

If you were there, you had to help out, whether as a dishwasher or a dining hall waiter. And no one got out of cleaning the latrine.

One year, at a new camp, our unit loudly announced its presence walking to breakfast one morning.

I quickly learned from the more experienced leaders that such behavior would never happen again, if our unit ever wanted to return to that camp. Culture always trumps displays of pride.

A final rule has great personal resonance for me: “If you’re not early, you’re late.” I have commuted by public transit since 1974.

I have learned — while watching a vehicle drive away, without me — that published schedules are an approximation, not a guarantee.

I should have planned to arrive earlier if I needed to catch that particular ride — just as Scouts had to arrive on time for merit badge sessions, dining hall meals or other camp activities.

In the workplace, these rules can all be easily summarized: Take personal responsibility for your own actions. Don’t leave something that needs doing for someone else or blame others for your own mistakes.

An internet cartoon I have seen states this rule even more simply:

“Listen, you’re at work, so that means you’re an adult! So wash your own dishes!”

©2024 by the American Bar Association. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.

Photographs by Lee Shelly

About Aaron Derr 457 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.