Early in the Scouting movement, Robert Baden-Powell realized younger boys were hungry for the kind of adventures and lessons their older brothers were getting in Boy Scouts. In 1916, After a few years of experimentation, he used Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book as his inspiration for the Wolf Cub program. This program relied on the stories and lessons from Kipling’s book to help young boys learn to follow their leaders, work together, build character, stay fit, and serve others. As the program evolved, direct references to The Jungle Book decreased, though its influence is still evident in terms like Akela, Law of the Pack, den, Grand Howl, etc.
With a new live-action Disney film coming out this weekend, I decided to re-read Kipling’s famous story. Here are 10 lessons all Cub Scouts can learn from Mowgli:
1. Follow Akela
“Akela! Akela!” said Mowgli, clapping his hands. “I might have known that thou wouldst not forget me.” (50)
In Kipling’s story, Akela has been the leader of the wolf pack for years, helping them work together, find food, and stay safe. As long as the wolves follow Akela, they prosper. As soon as they start to ignore his advice and do things their own way, everything falls apart. Because Mowgli follows Akela, he grows wiser and stronger and escapes serious danger. For a Cub Scout, Akela represents pack and den leaders, parents, and teachers. As long as a Scout follows the advice of these trusted mentors, he will be safe and succeed.
2. Stay close to your family
“Thou wilt not forget that thou art a wolf? Men will not make thee forget?” said Gray Brother anxiously.
“Never. I will always remember that I love thee and all in our cave.” (45)
No matter what the rest of the pack or the other jungle animals think, Mowgli’s wolf family stands by him. His parents defend him from other wolves and from Shere Khan (the tiger) and his wolf brothers help him even when he lives in the human village. As long as a Cub Scout remains close to his family, he will have help in times of need.
3. Choose your friends wisely
No sooner had he walked to the city wall than the monkeys pulled him back, telling him that he did not know how happy he was, and pinching him to make him grateful. (33)
Mowgli finds himself in serious trouble when he chooses the wrong friends. Early in the story, he spends some time with the monkeys in the treetops, eating nuts and having fun. They convince him life is much more exciting without the rules of the pack and the responsibilities of his life at home. Once they kidnap him and carry him off to be their leader, however, Mowgli finds himself hungry and afraid in the midst of their manic reveling. Fortunately, Mowgli’s true friends, Baloo and Bagheera, come to his rescue. Cub Scouts can use Mowgli’s example to remember to choose their friends carefully.
4. Work together
“I kill nothing,—I am too little,—but I drive goats toward such as can use them. When thou art empty come to me and see if I speak the truth.” (39)
Though he does his best, Mowgli has a hard time keeping up with his wolf brothers, who are naturally suited to jungle life. In order to contribute to the pack, Mowgli has to get creative and use his own talents. He knows he can’t easily hunt large animals himself because he is so little. So instead, he herds the animals toward the wolves and they all share the meal. No matter how little, a Cub Scout has something to contribute to the success of the team. The whole team is better when everyone works together.
5. Keep physically strong
In the jungle he knew he was weak compared with the beasts, but in the village people said that he was as strong as a bull. (45-6)
Among the jungle animals, Mowgli often feels small and weak. When he goes to a human village, however, the villagers are amazed at his strength. Because Mowgli spends his time in the jungle working hard, he is strong and healthy. Cub Scouts, though they may never need to climb a tree for food, can still stay active so they can be physically strong.
6. Listen to your teachers
It was in the days when Baloo was teaching him the Law of the Jungle. The big, serious, old brown bear was delighted to have so quick a pupil (20).
Baloo and Bagheera are tasked with teaching young Mowgli the Law of the Pack and the ways of the jungle. When Mowgli listens, he is safe and successful. When he doesn’t listen, he ends up swinging from the trees with chattering monkeys. Cub Scouts must recognize who their teachers are and listen carefully to the things those teachers tell them.
7. Learn all you can
“He has not forgotten to use his tongue,” said Baloo with a chuckle of pride. “To think of one so young remembering the Master Word for the birds too while he was being pulled across trees!” (31)
Mowgli learns the languages of all the jungle animals from Baloo. I’m sure as he was learning them, he didn’t always understand why he had to spend so much time studying things that weren’t immediately helpful. As the screaming monkeys are carrying him off, though, Mowgli is able to use the language of the birds to send for help. In that moment of fear and danger, he must have been grateful for his lessons. Cub Scouts should have a good attitude about learning and always look for new things to learn.
8. Learn from everyone you meet
For three months after that night Mowgli hardly ever left the village gate, he was so busy learning the ways and customs of men. (46)
Mowgli has a hard time fitting in when he goes to the human village. He misses the freedom and order of the jungle and the ways of his wolf pack. But even though he is confused and homesick, he keeps learning. He spends his time observing the villagers to learn their language and customs and help in their work. Everyone a Cub Scout meets has something to teach him, if the Cub will just come willing to learn.
9. Spend time in nature
And Father Wolf taught him his business, and the meaning of things in the jungle, till every rustle in the grass, every breath of the warm night air, every note of the owls above his head, every scratch of a bat’s claws as it roosted for a while in a tree, and every splash of every little fish jumping in a pool meant just as much to him as the work of his office means to a business man. (7-8)
Most Cub Scouts won’t ever live with wolves, be taught by a bear, hunt with a panther, or face a tiger. But like Mowgli, they can learn to appreciate the natural world. Learning about nature can inspire new hobbies for Cub Scouts, but it can also help them be more mindful of their actions in their daily life. The more familiar Scouts are with the natural world, the better they will take care of it throughout their lives.
10. Show respect
“Well said,” growled Baloo, for Mowgli had returned thanks very prettily. The python dropped his head lightly for a minute on Mowgli’s shoulder. “A brave heart and a courteous tongue,” said he. “They shall carry thee far through the jungle, manling.” (39)
Baloo reminds Mowgli several times to show respect to everyone he is talking to. This respect helps Mowgli get out of some sticky situations and build trust in those he meets. If Cub Scouts show respect to those around them, they will make friends everywhere they go.
I can certainly see why B-P used Kipling’s story as a guide for younger boys. What lessons do you see in The Jungle Book that could help our youth today?
Excerpts taken from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book kindle edition, which is available for free download.