Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Picture of Fraternity

I was recently part of a program in which the facilitator distributed several cards with compelling photographs on them.  He asked us to choose a single picture that stood out to us for whatever reason, and draw a connection between that picture and our experience at the program.  It was a really fun activity, and it was also fascinating to hear the truly creative interpretations of the pictures by the other participants.  Metaphors and analogies are powerful ways to creatively explore all kinds of issues and to reach possibilities we might not otherwise find.


At your next chapter retreat, staff meeting, or council meeting, take out a stack of interesting pictures, distribute them, and ask those attending the meeting to make a connection between the picture at the current state of the organization.  Or, ask them to share how the picture symbolizes the future they want to see.  Or better yet, their contributions to that future.


Given this blog's primary subject matter, let's play this out with fraternity.  Below are several images.  Choose one that symbolizes for you what fraternity means, and one that symbolizes your beliefs about the future of the fraternity movement.  Ask your brothers or sisters to do the same.  Feel free to use the pictures below (they are public domain) to start a creative thinking process in your organization.

And, if you are so bold, feel free to write about your own reflections on a particular image in the comments section below so we can all learn from each other.  


Here's one from me.  Like fraternity, this image reflects mystery and wonder.  Many observers cannot explain what exactly it is.  However, it is still admired and respected because it has stood the test of time.  People gravitate to this structure because they want to be connected to something bigger than themselves - something they don't quite understand but know is special.  Our sustained future will require many things, and one of the most important is that we retain this sense of uniqueness.  





















Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fraternity is Like a Baseball Game

The impending arrival of April signals the return of America’s pastime, the great sport of baseball.  There’s nothing like the smell of freshly cut grass joined together with the aroma of roasted peanuts.  The silence of winter is broken by the sound of a THWACK as wood bat meets cowhide ball, and the WHUMP of a fist pounding a freshly oiled glove until it’s ready to field a grounder.

I love baseball for many reasons, including its lessons about life, leadership, and fraternity.  Here are a few:

Moments of Consequence
While baseball is a team sport, it is full of moments of individual consequence.  Whereas in some team sports (e.g., soccer) it’s easy to be anonymous and hidden in lieu of the team, individuals often take center stage in baseball.  There are moments when a player can try to hide (think little league right-fielders), but they can’t stay hidden forever.  At some point, it will be their turn and they’ll stand at home plate with a bat in hand and the world watching.  And chances are for that batter, it will end badly.  A good batting average is .300.  This means that a great batter will strike out two-thirds of the time!

And so, while a player will have many moments when he makes contact with the ball and gets on base or even drives in a run, that same player will have more moments when he will take a long slow walk back to the dugout in defeated silence.  He let down his team.  It’s gut-wrenching.  Learning to handle that defeat and be resilient is one of the best character lessons baseball can teach. 

In fraternity, there are also moments of consequence; moments when the fraternity is counting on an individual player.  The intensity of the fraternity or sorority experience can create those gut-wrenching moments because you just don’t want to let your brothers or sisters down.  It could be falling short on a project, failing to meet academic standards, or making an unethical and haunting choice.

Of course, there will be moments of glorious success when a member can trot the bases as applause thunders around him.  But how about those times in which he fails?  How does he show his character in those moments? 

Moments of Glory, Moments of Sacrifice
It’s the bottom of the ninth inning with the score tied and two outs.  The star player comes to bat and the crowd is shouting for him to send the ball over the left field fence.  He obliges and launches a huge home run that wins the game.  The crowd goes wild as he soaks in the glory of a momentous occasion.

It’s the next night.  Again, it’s the bottom of the ninth inning, with the score tied and a runner on first.  There are no outs.  Th star player comes to bat and the crowd is shouting for him to send the baseball over the left field fence again.  As the first pitch comes, the star player crouches down and bunts to ball only a few feet in front of the plate.  It’s an easy out for the catcher who throws the ball to first.  Meanwhile, the runner who was on first was able to make it to second.  He is now in scoring position, meaning that all it takes is a base hit to bring him home. 

The star player did the furthest thing from hitting a home run, but the crowd still applauds loudly as he returns to the dugout.  Why?  He just sacrificed his success so that the team had a better chance to win.

The next batter gets a base hit, the runner scores, and the game is won.

A fraternity can be a wonderful vehicle for individual achievement and glory.  In fact, there is no sweeter feeling than succeeding in the company of your brothers or sisters. 

A fraternity can also be a wonderful vehicle for invidual sacrifice.  We all take an oath to an organization that we are expected to care for.  Fraternity helps us learn the power and satisfaction of contributing to a cause greater than our own self interests.

In short, there will be times to bunt and times to knock it out of the park.

Many Different Strengths Lead to Success
Babe Ruth, widely considered to be the best baseball player ever, had a body type closer to mine than Bo Jackson, and that’s not a compliment.  Baseball players succeed for many different reasons, all based upon the strengths they bring to the team.  Some, like Ricky Henderson, use lightning quick speed to be a terror on the bases.  Some, like Cecil Fielder, are as big as a sumo wrestler and can hit a ball into the next county.  Others, like Derek Jeter, use their reflexes to field any ball that comes their way.  And even others, like Cal Ripken, Jr. have such good hand-eye coordination that they rarely strike out.

A good manager will use players with particular strengths at opportune times.  If he needs a runner to steal a base, he bring in a speedy pinch runner.  If a left-handed pitcher has a better chance of striking out the batter, he’ll call to the bullpen. 

There is also a science to how managers make out their batting order so that strengths are maximized.

In the same way, good fraternities allow their members to use their strengths as much as possible.  Those skilled at the art of conversation are on the front lines for recruitment.  Those who have strong fiscal sense excel as Treasurers.  Good writers can put together newsletters for the organization. There is no singular skill set for a good fraternity member. 

The Moments Between the Action
One of the primary reasons I love baseball as I grow older is the pace of play.  This is also why so many people hate baseball.  I admit, it can move pretty slow.  But, at some point in your life, you may agree with me that slow is something to cherish.

The slow moments are often the times when friendship is strengthened.  When you watch a baseball game, pay attention to when the cameras turn to the pitchers in the bullpen.  It’s rare when they aren’t smiling or laughing as they pass the time waiting for their turn.  The same can be said for the dugouts.  Camaraderie is very evident in baseball.

And there is a reason why baseball is still the best spectator sport for families and friends.  There is little to do between innings than to turn to that person sitting beside you in the tight quarters of a ballpark and just talk with them.  Fathers and mothers and sons and daughters and friends and neighbors taking the time for conversation.  Oh, how we need that more than ever.

The undergraduate fraternity experience is much more fast-paced than most people want or expect.  There is much to be gained by cherishing the moments “between innings” when there is nothing more to do than to sit next to a brother or sister and talk about life. 

For life, like a baseball game, is meant to be savored. 

So, those are a few reasons why I love baseball and even believe it should be considered the official sport of fraternity.  But, I’m biased.  It should be noted that baseball certainly has its share of problems as well.  The whole steroids issue is a sticky one, and I wrote about it a couple of years ago.

Despite those challenges, I will continue to watch and observe the great lessons the game can teach us.  Count me among those who get a little extra spring in their step as the air gets warmer, the skies get bluer, and baseball players across the land take the field.

Oh, and GO TIGERS!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Greetings From the Back Row

Greetings from the back row.

I’m the brother you hate. I’m apathetic. I’m lazy. I’m the one who contributes nothing worthwhile, except an occasional laugh from one of my sarcastic comments. I like to come to parties and a meeting every once in a while. My lack of attendance drives you crazy. So does my smokeless tobacco habit.

I’ve been referred to as Joe Spitcup. Mr. Apathy. Bluto. The
Chapter Idiot.

I wasn’t always this unlikable fellow you see before you. In fact, when I first joined the chapter, I was ready to go. I had a lot to offer. I was the captain of my high school’s wrestling team and served on the yearbook staff. I’ve been a leader in clubs before. I’ve been good to my friends, and great to my two little sisters. I’ve always considered myself to be one of the good guys.

So how did I get this way? How am I now sitting in the back row? You may assume that I was just a bad recruit; that I joined for the wrong reasons. Perhaps you think I’m just one of those jerks who will always be this way. Actually, I bet you stopped thinking about me long ago. I am a waste of your time. I’m an impediment, a roadblock.

I don’t blame you for thinking these things. This whole back row is full of guys that fit that description. It’s not me, but I’ve chosen to be with these guys. I’ve chosen the back row, and so I deserve the perception that comes along with it.

However, I didn’t choose the back row at first. I started in the front.

I used to sit up close. I was eager to participate. I wanted to matter. But then a series of things began to happen.

I once had an idea in a chapter meeting that someone else said was “fucking stupid.” At the next meeting, I sat a little further back.

There was another time when I volunteered to go to the IFC meeting for the chapter. I forgot to go, and our president was pissed. I don’t blame him. I felt terrible about it. I’m still learning how to be better organized in my life, but that’s not an excuse. Anyhow, I volunteered to make it up by going the next week, but it was decided to send someone else.

I really haven’t been asked to do anything since, and I haven’t really volunteered. I just decided to sit a little further back in the meetings.

At the next meeting, I received the “dumb-ass brother of the week award” for messing up that part in our initiation ritual. I laughed along with everyone, but I felt really uncomfortable. By the way, I have an idea for other awards we could give that might actually inspire some positive action. Let me know if you want any of those ideas. I don’t think they’re stupid.

Anyhow, I didn’t really want to be called out again for an award like that, and so at the next meeting, I sat a little further back.

Then there was the time at our Spring mixer when an older brother offered me a joint, and I tried it. You heard about that, and I think you’re comment was “great – another pothead.” I regretted doing it immensely (and instantly), but I didn’t want to admit that. I didn’t want to be seen as weak. I didn’t want to show how low my confidence level really is.

So, at our next meeting, I just sat a little further back.

And I found myself in the back row.

Since then, I really haven’t been a good brother. I stopped going to meetings. I found a group to hang out with who aren’t the best influence. I started playing the roles of “jock” and “big drinker” because at least they gave me an identity. I’m not what I expected to be, but at least I’m something.

The funny thing is, I joined a fraternity because I wanted to be better. I actually think I might be a lesser person because of it.


By the way, I’m not looking for sympathy or welfare. I’ve decided to be here in the back row. It’s not really your job to reach out to every low-contributing member of the chapter, or even acknowledge our presence. You’re busy, after all. You’ll be just fine paying no attention to me. 

I just wanted you to understand a few of the things that led to my life in the back row. Perhaps you can stop the next guy from drifting back here.

And I guess I also want you to know that if you were just to offer me a small invitation to engage, just a minor role or opportunity, I would do absolutely amazing things for this chapter. I would be the best member you could ask for. 

But I can’t expect that. I can’t even expect you to notice me anymore. After all, it’s quite a distance from where you are and where I sit. Here. In the back row.