Thursday, December 18, 2008

Brother Blago

It's been almost a decade, but perhaps you remember the story of former Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich, aka Blago. He was a promising politician until he was impeached, removed from office, and thrown in prison for bribery. And that's where he still remains today.

The first thought that occurred to me when I learned of this scandal right after it happened was “uh oh – he’s a Theta Chi!” I might not have known that except for his picture being included in a slideshow of famous Theta Chi’s, shown at our convention the prior summer. I hope and expect that the slideshow is Blago-free these days.

The Blagojevich episode and others like it calls into question a standard practice of marketing fraternity: using the famous and powerful to showcase our significance. We’ve all seen or heard the statistics (which vary wildly depending on who is sharing them) and they’ve continued to be a staple of our proof that we are effective. We claim a high percentage of Presidents, Senators, Governors, and others as an indication of our strength in developing leaders. Nobody has ever proven that this is even an effective practice. Did you join because Calvin Coolidge was Greek?

Maybe it used to work – but I doubt it would anymore. Especially since the approval ratings of politicians tend to be in the gutter (congressional disapproval currently stands at 75%). Are people able to turn off their filter of distrust and distaste for politicians when we use them as a marketing tool? Probably not. If we proudly told someone yesterday that a person like Blagojevich rose to his position because of the teachings of fraternity, what do we tell that person today?

Because humans are fallible, we can’t completely escape incidents like this. In most cases, we should be proud of famous folks that wear our letters. And some are going to screw up. However, the propensity of this happening with politicians (and possibly Hollywood celebrities) seems to be greater. So why are they the ones we tend to showcase most often?  

I’m reminded of hearing Wolf Blitzer, the CNN Host and a fraternity man, speak at an NIC event. We were all excited to have someone of that stature speak to the fraternity movement. That excitement wore off a bit when Wolf began sharing stories of hazing and how that helped him later in his work as a journalist. Thanks Wolf!

I would be excited to see a national Fraternity or Sorority take the lead and begin promoting the influence of Greek membership on other segments of society – the ones (in my opinion) that really
matter and really prove that we make a difference. What percentage of social service providers are affiliated? What about leaders of nonprofit organizations? How many doctors, nurses, and teachers belong to a fraternity or sorority? How about military leaders? Community organizers? Rescue workers? Entrepreneurs? These percentages would send a powerful message about the things we value and the contribution of fraternity. We can then include politicians and celebrities, and know that we are sharing the whole picture.

By the way, I’m assuming with some confidence that the percentages in those other fields would be high. Maybe not. That could lead to a whole new set of conversations.

Even greater questions remain for us. How do we explain the fraternity/sorority experience of those politicians who end up being corrupt? Did their fraternity/sorority make matters worse? We all know plenty of chapters where this would be possible. If we want to claim leaders in society as our own, we better keep doing the values-based work on the ground that ensures we can be proud of those we claim.  

Perhaps it also requires that we publicly denounce those that embarrass our organizations.  

For every Rod Blagojevich, there is a fraternity man who lives the principles of his organization each day and makes all of us proud. In fact, there are thousands of them. Despite my misgivings about Brother Blago, I trust that they will win the day.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Justifying Fraternity

I have chosen fraternity.

Part of living in a free society is the opportunity to make choices. Many other nations in our world take choices away from their citizens. In America, we add new choices every day. New things to do, new things to see, new things to read, new things to eat, new ways to live. I made a choice 10 years ago, which I have never regretted – the choice to be a fraternity man.

Because it is a choice, we should not disparage those who make a different choice. It’s their right. We should not judge them for the choice they made. However, we also should not sit idly by and allow them to judge us for our choice. It is perfectly acceptable to justify our choice – loudly and proudly if need be.

We each have our own justifications for why we chose to join. Perhaps, at this point, you don’t know why. That’s okay. I was that way myself, especially at the start. When I was a freshman, I wanted to take a long and fulfilling ride through my 4 years of undergraduate education. A fraternity seemed like the best vehicle for that ride – but I wasn’t sure why at the time.

By justifying the choices we make in life, our life becomes clearer. There are sound reasons why we make every choice – although some of those reasons may be hidden until we are ready to see them. As a new father, I sometimes try to remember my motivation for becoming a parent in the first place. It just seemed like a natural thing to do. Now that I have a child, I never want to go back to my life before him. Parenthood has provided me with an opportunity for legacy that can’t be found anywhere else. I wasn’t ready to understand that until I held him for the first time.

As I reflect on my fraternal experience, I have also discovered and rediscovered the reasons why I made this choice. My decision to join a fraternity becomes clearer and more convincing each day. Perhaps you can’t justify your reasons for joining a fraternity. I can.

Many people make a choice for safety. They want to live free from controversy, conflict, or debate. I chose fraternity, and welcomed these things into my life.

Some choose to avoid scrutiny and accountability. They want to go unnoticed. I chose fraternity – I want you to see me. I want my accomplishments to be felt.

Some people want their lives to be orderly, formulaic, and easily navigated. I opted for the emotional chaos that comes from a group of young men trying to pull together. I chose fraternity.

There are those who treat leadership as theoretical, relying on books by experts and seeking inspiration from heroes. I participated in a service project, set an agenda, approved a budget, intervened in a quarrel between brothers, led a meeting, and stood up to an older member who was slamming an empty keg into the fraternity house doors – all in the same day. I chose leadership that's real. I chose fraternity.

Some people like to think about moral dilemmas and discover their values through reflection. I chose fraternity – and tested my values day and night.

Many are forced to be in environments where mistakes cannot be made and learned from. I thank goodness for choosing fraternity – and getting myself into many mistakes.

Some want to always follow the rules and abide by authority. I chose fraternity, and learned that some of the most beautiful achievements come through defiance.

Many believe that “men’s only” organizations are antiquated and offer nothing to our society. I unlocked brotherhood, and all the unexplainable tears, cheers, hugs, and laughter it provides. I chose fraternity.

Live and let live. I will not judge someone for their choices in life – it’s the reasons behind them that can be investigated. Stand up for your choices. Discover the hidden reasons behind them.

I hope that you make choices in life that make you stronger and help give your life more meaning that it might otherwise have had. Whether by chance, luck, or destiny, I did.

I chose fraternity.