A common answer I heard during rush was: “it’s just something you have to experience to understand.” I probably said that to recruits as well.
As I’ve moved along in my fraternity journey, I think it’s becoming easier for me to define. Brotherhood is not as vague and intangible as it once was for me.
At this point, if someone were to ask me to define brotherhood in the fraternity sense, this would be my reply:
Brotherhood is the bonding of men of various backgrounds, beliefs, places, and eras around a singular set of life-directing commitments.
This is what allows me to share brotherhood with the men I graduated with, and with the men who graduated a century ago. It allows me to be a brother with someone I disagree with politically, religiously, or in any other way. Because instead of being based on personalities and friendship, brotherhood is based on shared commitments.
A brotherhood is weak or strong based on the degree to which the commitments are made and maintained.
A brother is a good brother if he follows the commitments and helps others follow them as well.
How do I know if the recruitment chair’s claim of the “strongest brotherhood on campus” is true? Or even partially true? By how much the men know, stay true and hold each other true to those commitments.
Brotherhood has to be maintained. Constantly. For the rest of your life. If you choose to stop adhering to the commitments you made, then you fall out of the brotherhood. You stop being a brother, even if you're wearing the letters or your name still appears in the directory.
If a fraternity values togetherness and hanging out, then it is really valuing friendship. This is completely fine. Friendship is an attractive asset for a fraternity. It's also an attractive asset for a residence hall floor. Lot's of places can claim friendship.
Brotherhood is not friendship, although it can create friendship.
Brotherhood is a sacred privilege. It's not easy to maintain. I have a lot of friends in my life, but very few true fraternity brothers.
Brotherhood is unique enough that it is found sparingly. Of course, you find it in families. You also hear it in places where men fight wars together, or enter burning buildings together.
Brotherhood is a term you sometimes hear in religion. Brotherhood in fraternity is like religion, but the stakes are not quite so high. There are oaths, obligations, and peer accountability. It’s just missing the whole afterlife thing. [although God might ask you how good of a brother you were]
Why is brotherhood difficult to define? Because done right, it is extraordinary. There is a reason so many brothers stand up at each others' weddings. And eventually eulogize each other. Those moments are reserved for family, or those who might as well be. For those with whom we’ve forged a connection that’s deeper than just beers on Saturday nights, or Spring Break trips together. A connection born on the day we spoke the oaths that made us fraternity men together.
Those oaths made us brothers. And for as long as we pledge to stay true to those oaths, and help each other stay true as well, brothers is what we’ll remain.
I think at this point, that’s how I view brotherhood.