I once had a conversation with Fraternity.
I sought him out in order to discover the truth, and he received me warmly. He found in me someone who was confused and increasingly disenchanted.
“Fraternity, what is the truth about you?” I asked.
He looked at me with a smile, and replied “what do you believe it to be?”
I took a moment to collect my thoughts. “I get confused,” I shared. “I see conflict between what I believe you are supposed to be, and what it is you really are.”
He calmly asked me to explain.
“Well, people have told me that you are special and unique institution. However, it’s difficult for me to see where and how exactly you are different. Perhaps the reality is that you are just another club among many, and that’s all you will ever be.”
“Perhaps,” he replied stoically. He invited me to continue.
“I’ve heard that your purpose is noble, but all I witness is a drinking club. Perhaps instead of the broad picture you paint with your flowery creed, you are destined to be narrowly defined only as a social outlet for college students. In the end, you’re just a way for young men and women to meet each other and have fun.”
He paused. “What else do you think?” he asked.
“There is much talk about the values you promote. Maybe the values, symbols, secrets and Rituals are nothing more than a charade.” The tension in my voice was growing. “They exist only to create interest and intrigue, but serve no practical purpose.”
He continued to smile.
“I’m trying to believe in you, but you keep finding ways to shake my faith. Maybe all you are is just a temporary extracurricular activity for college kids with a robust social calendar as your only claim to fame."
I looked into his eyes, my doubts evident in my voice. "Fraternity, your words are eloquent, but your actions are coarse. I wonder if we ask too much of you.”
We sat in tense silence, he and I.
“So what is the truth Fraternity?” I pressed. “What are you? Really?"
Fraternity thought for a moment, and then spoke.
“Well, I can be all of those frustrating things you described. It is you, through your actions, that define me. I am a human creation, and flawed just as humans are. I can be a vehicle for their greatest ideals, and for their worst temptations. But my flaws have not always defined me. For many years, I was proud of what you created in me. I felt it was truly what I was meant to be. But over time, I became something much different. My way was lost.”
“What am I?” he continued. “Well, I’m not really sure any more. But, I’ll tell you what I want to be.”
“I want to be a movement, not just an organization. I want to change this world – make it a better place. I see a world lacking honor, and I want to provide it with honorable men and women. I see a society without courage, and I want to give it courageous people.”
“I see a world that is fractured, isolated, and full of distrust. In response, I seek to connect, to draw together, and to bond. I see a world where integrity is mostly ignored, and often rewarded. It’s a world that needs men and women of shining character so badly, and I can give them to it.”
“I see a world that is broken in so many ways, and I know in my soul that the men and women I produce are the ones that can heal it.”
“I was not founded to just be another club, or something that sits on the sidelines of society. I am completely and without apologies invested and involved in society. I was founded because there were many things that were missing or in short supply in this world, such as the kinds of things my Ritual book is overflowing with.”
“I no longer want my purpose to be so narrowly defined that it can be ignored. I want my purpose to be shouted from the mountaintops. I want all to know that my purpose is this: to build, through you and your brothers, a stronger world.”
We sat in silence, his words, and the passion behind them still reverberating in the air. He asked me to ponder these thoughts, consider them for myself, and return for further conversation when I’m ready. As I turned to leave, he spoke again.
“You said you wonder if you ask too much of me,” he said. “The truth is, I'm resting right here - waiting, hoping, even begging for you to ask for more.”
The essay was originally posted in December 2009 and has been updated.