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What the Links of Unity REALLY Mean
I wrote an article about Links of Unity and what they really mean many years ago after I represented Australia at an international event in Europe. For those who have never attended an international event, this article might give you a real life feeling of what the Links really mean. I hope you read it, so that you can convey how truly remarkable this Movement is to your Guides.
Links of Unity
I don't remember which dictionary/dictionaries I consulted for these definitions. If anyone knows, please email me, and I will provide proper attribution.
Guiding is a world-wide organisation: just flip through the pages of Trefoil Round the World to see the many different countries that have Guiding. But do the words 'a world-wide organisation' actually mean anything to you and your girls? What is there that is wonderful in the original sense of the word about Guiding and Scouting?
Trefoil Round the World discusses the Promise, Law, history etc. of over 100 countries in the world that practise Guiding. But each of those 100+ countries is different in its laws, racial composition, government, religion, culture, history and customs. That is, each country is unique, and I'm not talking only about WAGGGS members - ALL countries in the world are unique. What is it that gives each country listed in Trefoil Round the World a commonality with the others? If all countries in the world are different, how can we say that two countries have the same anything, far less 100 or more?
The Links of Unity are the difference
The Links of Unity in the Guiding (and Scouting) Movement make the difference. Each individual country that belongs to WAGGGS or WOSM has adopted certain beliefs and principles that are common to all other member countries.
The awesome and significant part about it is that so many different and unique countries with so many differences in their everyday life CAN FOLLOW THE SAME BASIC PRINCIPLES.
Each country has a Promise, and that Promise, in most cases, has three parts to it. The parts differ in detail, but they all say basically the same.
All member countries have a similar Promise and Law, tailored to their own environment and history (you can trace the expansion of British colonialism purely through Guiding Promises and Promise badges if you look at the earlier Trefoil Round the World editions!), they have a uniform (and just look at the similarities there! You could almost call it a basic mix'n'match with regional variations!), they have a motto.
All countries acknowledge Lord Robert Baden-Powell as the original founder of their organisations, regardless of whether he actually physically started them there or not. It is his idea that they are founded on.
Here's the Awesome Thing
The REALLY awesome thing about the whole concept of Guiding and Scouting is something that people don't seem to realise very often, until they are involved in an event at world level which becomes signficant to them. And that is that people all over the world are still people - we all belong to the same species. We are not dogs or cats or fish or birds or insects - we are mammals of a special kind. Regardless of what country we were born in or live in or what race or religion our parents were, we are all members of the homo sapiens species. We all have the same feelings, desires, fears, joys and sorrows - the differences are merely cultural.
Think about that for a minute. Yes, what I said in the above paragraph is a given. But how many of us really realise it, deep down?
The Guiding and Scouting Movements are ONE very positive way in which all people in the world can relate to all others, regardless of background. Sure, there are regional variations, just as there are regional variations in the weather and landforms.
But we should not let those variations become the basis of segregation from other members of our own species. Guides and Scouts all over the world, whether they recognise the fact or not, have the means at their disposal, from an early age, to break down those barriers and become one species again, working together, towards what are, after all, the same goals.
Links of Unity Really Mean Something
So the topic in leader trainings, and the clause in the badge system called 'Links of Unity' is not just a list of objects that must be learnt because they are there on the syllabus. THEY REALLY MEAN SOMETHING. They are, in my opinion, THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF GUIDING AND SCOUTING after the personal development of its members (and I don't just mean the girls or boys, I mean ALL members, no matter what age, position or degree of involvement or length of service). Just look at the global action themes that WAGGGS has initiated.
If we as member countries did not have these uniting basic foundations, we would not belong to a world wide organisation. We would be on our own.
We are not on our own
Luckily, we are not on our own. We belong to something which counts over ten million members in 145 countries in WAGGGS and over 28 million in 160 countries in WOSM. That's a lot of people.
Just think of what the world would be like if every one of those 38 million people started co-operating with each other. We could be the driving force behind the abolition of war, destruction and imbalance. We would have no intolerance, no famine, no poverty, no environmental damage.
We, as Guides and Scouts, have the REAL potential to make the planet Earth a unit/company/troop which just happens to be made up of patrols, i.e. countries.
Examples of Links of Unity in Action
Do you remember the story from the Second World War, where an American soldier lay wounded on the beach of Okinawa and was about to be bayonetted to death by a Japanese soldier? The American made the Scout Sign and passed out, not expecting to ever wake up. He woke up in an American forces hospital with a note in his pocket that was written in Japanese, left there by the Japanese soldier who was about to kill him. The Japanese soldier with the bayonet was also a Scout in Japan, and could not bear to kill a fellow Scout, no matter that this fellow Scout was an enemy of his country. (See one version of the story here and pictures of a monument in Kyoto, Japan and another version of the story here.) That is the Links of Unity in action.
Scouting and Guiding have been going for one hundred years. Starting in Britain, the Movements spread throughout the world, using cutting edge ideology and methodology to teach young people how to live. Those methodologies are now standard in education at all levels all over the world. The Movements' strength is embodied in and symbolised by the Links of Unity. They are real. They are tangible. They are not just images or words on a test paper.
When you go to an international event, you immediately feel at home, because the Links of Unity are real. Everyone at that international event is there for the same reasons, and adheres to the same basic principles of life. It is difficult to convey the total feeling of oneness that you get when you attend an international event. It's probably akin to being an Olympian, except that Guiding and Scouting embody far more than athletic prowess - they embody personal development within a framework of global co-operation and service.
Make Links of Unity come alive with your members
So next time you consider how you are going to teach the girls those Links of Unity, don't think 'yuk!', think about what they are. Make the very concept come alive - we as humans SHOULD be united in purpose, but we're not. The Movements to which we belong have real power to put the whole world on the road of unity.
Don't let Links of Unity become boring - they are vital to the future of our world - and it needs all the help it can get!
© Gaye Wilson 1986–2010
Here is an explanation of the Links of Unity (now known as Symbols of the Movement)
Here is a game to help teach the Links of Unity
If you would like a copy of a Concentration Game to teach Links of Unity I have created for you to print and laminate, email me, and I will send you the very large file (over 2Mb).