To be or not to be…excellent. That is the question. I invite you to enjoy this classic clip from Wayne’s World 2:
This scene has great lessons for our organizations. We have just become too comfortable with mediocrity. Let’s face it, many of our organizations are striving to just reach mediocrity.
It’s easy to see in movies when actors or actresses are just “mailing it in.” The same is true for fraternities and sororities. It’s those groups that shuffle around from obligation to obligation, seemingly uninterested and lethargic. It’s the opposite of watching a master at work – someone who wants to, who needs to – be the greatest at their chosen craft. It’s whoever that first guy was vs. Charlton Heston.
It begs the question, however, what “being your best” or “performing at peak level” really means for fraternities and sororities.
Is being excellent as a fraternity winning campus competitions? That’s a pretty superficial measure I think. What about winning the highest honors from your national fraternity? I wonder if sometimes that is just a measure of one’s ability to write an application.
How about Ritual? Is living by the teachings of your Ritual achieving excellence as a fraternity? Yes – if excellence is doing exactly what’s expected of you.
Excellence can include all of these things, but they still don’t say enough. There seems to be an intangible quality to excellence, resulting in the old “I know it when I see it” test.
How about if excellence were this: getting others to believe in you. What if it meant performing in a manner that goes so far above an expected standard, that you become an aspiration for others.
Consider three sororities on a given campus. When interviewed about the first one, the university President states: “I like that sorority.” On the second, he comments “I trust that sorority.” On the third, he remarks “I believe in that sorority.” Each sorority is regarded as outstanding, but only one is excellent. It’s the one that changes the President’s perspective from “they simply exist” to “I want them to exist.” Or even, “I need them to exist.”
When someone like Charlton Heston steps in front of the camera, we believe in him. We know that a good performance will follow. In that scene, we wanted him in that role.
If you can get people – ranging from recruits to advisors – to say that they believe in you, then you know that you’re performing at a high level. And by the way, I can believe in a fraternity even if they don’t win a single Greek Week event.
So, what are you doing as an organization that would cause someone to say that they believe in you? Is your performance worth watching? Imagine the audience is filled with your founders, great alumni of the past, campus administrators, parents, etc. Would they stand and cheer for you? Would your performance move them to tears? Or, would they rather yank your fraternity and find a better stand-in?
When you believe in something, you protect it. You share it with others. It becomes a rock for you. It’s the same for how we cherish our own Rituals. What if others regarded fraternities as the “Ritual books” for the rest of society? As the place to turn to for leadership, scholarship, service, and other values.
That’s more than taking home a trophy. That’s knowing that you matter. Undeniably.
How much better would the fraternity movement, our organizations, and our members be if we no longer sought to just be tolerated, or liked, or accepted? What if we sought to be an aspiration for others? To do so much good that those around us could not avoid the desire to believe in us and what we’re doing. That would be, as they say in Wayne's World, excellent!
The next few essays from me are going to focus on the idea of excellence in fraternity and sorority life. In fact, I may devote the whole summer to the topic. If you have thoughts to share, please contact me or post in the comments.