No, not the Guide Promise. Well, not specifically. Mainly other promises and commitments made by Leaders.
You see, I follow quite a few of the Leader forums on facebook. And I am tired of seeing the same query coming up several times a week, every week.
“I said to the girls we’d do X topic next week/tomorrow/tonight/in 30 minutes – any ideas what we could do for it?”
And I can’t help but ask, why? No, not why are you doing that topic, it might be a perfectly reasonable one to be doing, absolutely. But why on earth did you say to the girls, and make a commitment to them, while there was at the very least, significant doubt over your being able to keep your word? What happened to “an Englishman’s word is his bond”? After all, these panic questions crop up far too often for them to always be the “best-laid plans” being derailed by the entirely unforeseeable.
Yes, I know we dropped the “Be Prepared” motto in the UK years back. But that was only because the girls didn’t understand or know that particular meaning of the word ‘motto’, not because the “Be Prepared” message itself wasn’t still an extremely relevant Guiding principle which we should all aim to stick to at all times. Because it most certainly is. Plus, there’s that first Guide Law to face, “A Guide is honest and can be trusted”. Given we are all bound by that Law, why are so many Leaders making commitments which they are knowingly at high risk of not keeping? There’s no need to make any commitments to the girls about ‘next week’s programme’ at all, unless you need them to bring special kit for it.
As Leaders we accept solemn and binding Promises from the girls in our units. We stand and listen as children of very young ages make sincere commitments to think about their beliefs, be loyal to their country, help other people and all the rest of it, every day for the rest of their lives, regardless of whatever else may happen to them along life’s path, positive or negative. And with the authority vested in us as Leaders, we welcome them to full membership of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, and expect them to take seriously the lifelong commitment they have just made to that organisation. In return for us accepting their solemn lifelong personal commitment, the girls look to us to give them a living example of that same Promise which we share in common. To demonstrate to them how it can be kept, how it can be made a part of one’s life, in all that’s said and done. Because whether we like it or not, the girls in our units do look up to us, and they do aspire to be like us. So when we give a commitment to them that “next week we’ll be doing gardening” – then it should be as near to binding upon us as we can manage to make it. And that means that before we say a word to them on what next week’s programme might be (if we say anything at all), we should have the plans for most if not all of the activities for that theme thought out, and the equipment either obtained or sourced and scheduled to arrive in plenty of time. And that if there is any foreseeable factor which would prevent, we make it clear from the start – for instance, mentioning “weather permitting” or “if the parcel arrives”, or giving it as “we’re hoping to . . .”.
Of course, it’s fine to just leave it all as a surprise, and it matters not a jot if, at the distance of a week beforehand, it’s still destined to be a bit of a surprise for you too! It also avoids the risk of committing yourself to things which you just can’t be certain of – a stargazing session can be great fun on a crisp clear autumn night when the constellations are easy to see – but at a distance of week ahead, even meteorological experts can’t accurately predict weather and cloud cover, and the wrong conditions would mean a bit of a dull session discussing what might have been visible but isn’t! Equally, it’s a total waste to be sitting doing activities indoors when there is warm summer weather, fresh air and outdoor space such as an empty playground or car park, or a local park you could be utilising - even if that wasn’t what the forecast predicted! And sometimes life happens – you may have known which shop had the key item in stock, you may have expected to have at least two or three opportunities to go and collect the reserved goods – but if life gets in the way and you don’t get to the shop before closing time, the best laid plans can have to be scrapped and replaced.
So I would urge, before you go making promises to the girls about exactly what you will be doing next week, next month, next term, next year – stop. Are you absolutely certain you can deliver? Regardless of what might happen between now and then? If there is any doubt, is it worth saying “we might do X next week”. Or “if the weather is dry we might go out, so please bring coats in case”. Or - would it be wiser to say nothing at all of what is planned, and let whatever you actually do on the night be judged as fun or not on it’s own merits, not compared with what-might-have-been or what-was-scheduled - and not leaving you breaking your word to them?
Yes, let’s eliminate those broken Leader promises.