Earning the Award
I began to be active in the scouting program in the Boy Scouts of America when I turned 10. I had some of the best scout leaders in the world, who took us on wild adventures, including white water rafting and scuba diving. These great men were passionate about helping us to earn merit badges so we could become Eagle Scouts.
I finished my Eagle Scout project when I was 13 years old, and I anticipated receiving the award. Just a year before, young Eagle Scouts were invited to the White House to receive the award from the President of the United States in a joint ceremony. Unfortunately, the tradition was canceled before I was to receive my award. But I was still excited to become an Eagle Scout.
A Moment of Hurt
I remember the day of my first Board of Review (an interview wherein a leader reviews forms, certifies merit badges, and ensures that all things are in order to be considered to receive the Eagle award). I woke up nervously and got dressed in my scouting uniform, complete with my hat and scout neckerchief. My mom and my scoutmaster had double-checked my binder to ensure that I had all the proper signatures and forms intact.
I rode my bike to the house of a man who lived in my ward so that he could review my work. He invited me into his home and began to casually look through my binder, shaking his head the whole time.
I was a bit perplexed.
He slid my binder back to me across his kitchen table and, shaking his head, he simply said that it would not do. Even more confused, I apologized and asked him what I had forgotten or what we had overlooked. He then dropped a bombshell on me: “Can I tell you a secret, Eric? We just won’t give Eagles to negros like you.”
As you can imagine, I was shocked. I politely excused myself and rode my bike home.
As I entered my house, I could tell by the smell that my mom had been baking chocolate chip cookies, one of my favorite treats. She asked how the Board of Review had gone. When I explained to her what had happened, she asked me to get into our family car. We drove back to this man’s house and she asked me to stay in the car while she went up to have a conversation with him.
Eventually, after a few phone calls and another appointment with a different leader, I was awarded the rank of Eagle Scout.
Forgive Them Anyway
The next Monday for Family Home Evening, my mother taught me a truth that has been with me for the last three decades of my life: “If you want to be happy, you need to develop two attributes: thick skin and a gentle heart.”
Her words have always stuck with me. Thick skin and a gentle heart.
A quote often attributed to Mother Teresa may sum it up the best:
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of being selfish.
Be kind anyway.
If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
If you find happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
I want to invite you to have a spirit of forgiveness with you. Forgive as Christ would forgive, and let Him connect with you and heal you. Whether it’s something a spouse or child does that is frustrating—or something your priesthood leader says—or even something a random person on the street does to upset you—I invite you to have thick skin and a gentle heart.