Promises, Promises

The Guide Promise is changing.

This isn’t the first time it’s changed, and I doubt it will be the last.  In fact, over the 100 years Girlguiding has been in existence this will be the 12th version.  That’s a change every 8 or 9 years on average.  Considering that the last time it was changed was 1994, we were a little overdue.

Over the past day I’ve seen a lot of people quoting that statistic – the Promise has changed 11 times before.  It was in the official press release from Girlguiding, so we can be sure it is correct.  However, nobody that I’ve seen has said what those changes were, or how large they were.  Some internet research has thrown up some wildly different ideas of what the answer to this question is.

My research has only brought up seven versions, plus the original Scout Promise and the newest version.

1908 (For those pretending to be boys!)

On my honour I promise that:- 
I will do my duty to God and the King 
I will do my best to help others, whatever it costs me 
I know the Scout Law, and will obey it.

I like this version – not only does it make explicit that helping others might come at a cost, but it points out that you need to know the Law before you can obey it.  Ask any Guide and they can recite the Promise, but how many of them know the whole of the Guide Law?  I would definitely need to look it up!

1910

On my honour, I promise that I will do my best,
To do my duty to God and the King
To help other people at all times
To obey the Guide Law
http://www.electricscotland.com/history/articles/girlguides.htm

or

I promise, on my honour,
To be loyal to God and the King
To try and do daily good turns to other people
To obey the Law of the Guides
http://lesliesguidinghistory.webs.com/lists.htm

I’ve two sources for the first “Guide” version, and they disagree quite substantially.  I’m inclined towards believing the first one, since it’s closer to the Scout Promise, but I could be wrong.  The second one feels more Brownie-like, but Brownies didn’t exist until 1914. 

This version brings “doing your best” to the top of the list, meaning it applies to all of the lines, not just helping others.  The reference to the cost of helping people is replaced with helping people at all times.  This probably made it sound less scary.

1918

I promise on my honour to do my best 
To do my duty to God and the King 
To help other people at all times 
To obey the Guide Law
http://lesliesguidinghistory.webs.com/lists.htm

Switching “On my honour” and “I promise” doesn’t seem like a big change, but I’m sure it caused much controversy at the time!

1929

On my honour I promise that I will do my best 
To do my duty to God and the King 
To help other people at all times 
To obey the Guide Law
http://lesliesguidinghistory.webs.com/lists.htm

So much controversy, it seems, that we went back to the old version!

1938

I promise on my honour to do my best 
To do my duty to God and the King 
To help other people at all times 
To obey the Guide Law 
http://lesliesguidinghistory.webs.com/lists.htm

… and back again.  Clearly there were some long debates about this one!

1952

I promise on my honour to do my best
To do my duty to God and the Queen
To help other people at all times
To obey the Guide Law
http://lesliesguidinghistory.webs.com/lists.htm
http://www.electricscotland.com/history/articles/girlguides.htm

I’m not sure this really counts as a “change” – the only difference is the word “Queen”! 

1968

I promise that I will do my best 
To do my duty to God 
To serve the Queen 
And help other people 
And to keep the (Brownie) Guide Law. 
http://lesliesguidinghistory.webs.com/lists.htm

We’re splitting God and the Queen into different lines.  Presumably there was a reason, but I’ve not been able to find out what it was.

This is the version that’s in my 1987 edition of the Brownie Handbook (yes, I still have it!).

1994

I promise that I will do my best 
To love my God* 
To serve the Queen and my country 
To help other people 
And to keep the (Brownie) Guide Law.

* Members were allowed to replace with “Allah” or similar if desired.

The first real attempt to ensure that everyone knows Girlguiding is not a Christian organisation saw the Promise changing from “do my duty to God” to “love my God”.  There are two points here – the change from duty to love (which probably just reflects the happy fluffy 90s attitude), and the change from God (i.e. the One, Singular, Only God) to my God (i.e. my own personal God, which might not be the same as yours).

We’ve also added “and my country”.  A positive step, since one of the questions I get most often from new Brownies even now is “does that mean I have to go to Buckingham Palace and give the Queen cake?”.  Now we can explain that no, it’s a symbol for respecting the laws of the country

2013

I promise that I will do my best
To be true to myself and develop my beliefs
To serve the Queen and my community
To help other people
And to keep the (Brownie) Guide Law.

The new Promise will come into effect on 1st September 2013.  What do I think about it?

Knee-Jerk Reaction vs Thoughtful Analysis

When I heard that the Promise was changing, and what it was changing to, my knee-jerk reaction was a horrified shudder.  Change?  How awful!

But then I started to actually think about it, and I realised that this isn’t the first time I’ve had to deal with this.

I joined the Brownies in 1989, and the Guides in 1992, so I had made the old Promise twice.  When they changed it from “do my duty to God” to “love my God” I was pleased, because the term “my God” meant that it was more personal to me.  I grew up in a Christian household, so the question of whether God should be included or not never even crossed my mind.

Since moving out of my parents house, I have begun to explore my faith more for myself and, crucially, mix with people who do not simply assume that God exists and likes people to sit in churches every Sunday telling him how great he is.  These are people who study and think about their beliefs.  Some of them, after much thought, decide that Christians are right; some do not.  The important part is that they have thought about it and come to their own conclusions.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t believe in God, just that faith should not be taken for granted.

The new Promise, “to be true to myself and develop my beliefs” recognises that faith is something that needs work.  It is not simply a case of “God exists, love Him and all will be well” – even for Christians there is more to it than that.

Do what to my God?

In addition to excluding atheists (at least those with the morals needed to not lie while making the Promise), there is another reason why “to love my God” needed to change.

Not all religions love their God.

For some, the relationship with the gods is much more complex than love.  They believe that the gods are powerful, sometimes loving and kind, but in most cases also scary and dangerous.  Interacting with the gods is a much more contractual event.  Less “I love you… please help me get along with my friends and stop all war in the world” and more “If I sacrifice three bulls to you, will you make the volcano not explode?”. 

Promising to love someone like that would be like promising to love your bank manager or physiotherapist – an all-powerful being who controls some aspect of your life, who may or may not be open to bribes.

I am, of course, exaggerating slightly.

Country vs Community

The first thing I should point out is that in my opinion, my country is part of my community.  Yes, it’s a part that I don’t spend a lot of physical time with, but I have almost as many friends in distant parts of the UK as I do in Bristol, largely due to Girlguiding, Shorinji Kempo, and the power of the Internet.

The change to “community” will make it easier for younger girls to grasp – they tend to think in smaller areas, so asking them to “serve their community” will immediately spark ideas, while “serve their country” will be greeted with blank stares or questions about the armed forces.

The Senior Section have already been promising to be of service to the community.  Why shouldn’t the rest of us join in?

And finally, we’re keeping the Queen, who I’ve viewed for a long time as a symbol of the country, so it doesn’t really feel, to me, like we’re losing anything.

So do I like it?

Overall, I’d have to go with yes.  The words won’t please everyone, but the principle is sound.  Now that I’ve repeated the words to myself enough times that it doesn’t sound strange just because it’s new, I find myself liking them almost more than the old one.

If you want to read more blogs about the change to the Promise, click here.

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