Appreciate the Memories

Phi Delts at San Diego State host a Christmas light philanthropy

For me, the holiday season is a memory-making season.  Most of my favorite childhood and family memories come from this time of year.  Maybe that’s true for you too, or perhaps your memorable moments come from other times.  No matter when, memories live all around us, if we take the time to look for them.

As a young father, I’m very aware of the memories my children are building every day.  I hope they are as positive and lasting as possible.

And so, a simple message for this final post of 2013, regarding memories.

Your fraternity years, your sorority years, your college years  - these years can be some of the most memorable in your life.  There are countless moments throughout these years that will stick with you.  Forever.  And the people in these moments will stick with you as well.

Because of this, my recommendation to you is to slow down, stop, and to fully appreciate these years for the memory-making potential they have.

Maybe linger a little longer in that conversation with a brother.  Maybe say yes to that trip with your sisters.  Maybe wake up a little earlier, stay out a little later.  Be more open, more respecting, more willing to trust, and more vulnerable.  Yes guys, you too.

Let the camaraderie be palpable and thick.  Let the laughter boom through the halls.  Let the tears flow if they must.  Weave a story that makes your eyes shine when you share it.

If you are just drifting through this experience then I invite you to wake up and look around.  You will only pass this way once.  Just as my middle child will soon experience Christmas as a 3-year-old for his one and only time, you will never again have these college years back.  You’ll try, but it can’t be the same.

Don’t ignore that fact, and don’t ignore that voice floating in the air – the one that tells us we must make the most of these magnificent, moving, fraternal years.

The memories are waiting.  All that’s needed is you.  In full.

Happy holidays to you and your brothers and sisters.  Thanks for reading.

8 Phrases That Should Be Banned From Your Chapter

There are ideas in fraternity and sorority life that need to be shouted from the mountaintops.  There are ideas that deserve to be studied, analyzed, explored, and shared.  And there are ideas that give us hope and inspiration.

And then there are these ideas.  

I've tried to compile a list of the most frequently recurring bad ideas that I've heard in chapter rooms all over.  I don't want to castigate those who have brought these ideas forward, because most were offered with earnestness.  But that doesn't make them any less bad.

I believe it's time we actively seek to retire these ideas, phrases, notions, etc.  We'll be a better Greek movement without them.

I would be interested to know if you have heard these in the same frequency, and if they cause you the same reaction.  And here we go...

This is a common answer to member apathy, but when implemented, makes matters worse.  Same with extensive fining systems.  My 3-year-old has a points system in his preschool.  I hope he doesn’t have that same system when he’s an 18-year-old college student.  Start modeling adult organizational behavior.  You won’t find a professional workplace with a points system.  If someone isn’t meeting their obligations, hold them accountable through restitution, restrictions, and possibly, removal.

How about you wait until his grades are good?  Unless the sign outside your house says “Academic Advising Office,” you probably shouldn’t pretend that you can make any substantial difference for his grades.  In my experience (and I'm sure there are a few exceptions), fraternity can take average and above students and make them even better.  However, we are terrible at taking poor and below average students and getting them to perform.  When I've been asked by chapters my advice for how to raise their chapter GPA, my answer always is to recruit high performing students.  If they already have that ability, then you can do what fraternities do best: teach leadership, instill values, perform service, etc.   

You really only need one.  Don’t worry, the person who lost the election will be okay.  By forcing people into co-president situations, you are not helping them.  Have you ever seen one of those movies where two prisoners are trying to escape but they are handcuffed to each other?  Yeah, that’s what you’re doing.

Should have stopped after the second chance.  Fraternity is a privilege.  Yes, young adults can make mistakes.  A couple bouts of idiocy can be explained and forgiven.  Beyond that, it’s time to acknowledge that we can still like the guy, but he shouldn’t be a member.

Yes, when "help" means not trying to solve the problem. That's what rehab is for.  Or counseling.  Or any  professional service that you do not have the expertise or capacity to perform.  As brothers and sisters, we play a key role in observing troubling behavior and identifying when to intervene.  But, intervening means walking them to a center.  Or picking up the phone.  Get them to someone who can help them. That’s what sisterhood is for.

I can translate this one for you: “Let’s build deep divisions in our chapter!”  Or, “Let’s put a big fat target on our fraternity!”  Or, “Let’s start killing off this fraternity slowly by eroding trust and motivation in our future members!”  This one is probably the longest-running bad idea in the history of fraternity and sorority life.  And the most damaging.  And it doesn't become a better idea when adjectives are involved, such as "Let's haze the pledges...a little bit" or "Let's haze the pledges...lightly."  Let's just not haze the all. 

I bet many will disagree with my take on this one.  A sober sister program seems like a great way to prevent against drunk driving.  I think it’s a great way to reward thoughtlessness.  Fraternities and sororities should be the industry leaders in teaching responsibility.  If a group is going out to drink, they should have thought through a way to get home safely.  A sober sister program could bail out the idiots, but it also encourages them.  How about instead of a “program,” we all just agree to call someone if we need them?  

Or change it. Or don't do it at all. The Ritual - as provided to you by your inter/national organization - is not an Instagram photo that you can crop and filter.  Cut and paste is not allowed.  Your full and complete Ritual is the ONLY thing truly making you a member of your organization and truly making you a brother or sister with previous generations of members and others across the country.  Seek to perfect its delivery, not tweak it to fit your own needs or so you can get initiation over in time for Duck Dynasty.  Let's put it this way - if you change your Ritual, or simply don't do it, then I can claim to be as much a member of your organization as you are.  So can my dog. 

There you have it.  Eight ideas that keep coming up, but should be retired.  Help the fraternity movement by pushing back on these ideas if ever you hear them.  I'll give you 25 points if that will help.  Hurry up before your Co-President gets them!

Different Vehicles of Fraternity

If you haven’t read the latest entry on T.J. Sullivan’s blog, you may want to give it a tumble.  It’s an interesting read in which T.J. presents the idea of alumni members being able to join an additional/different fraternity later in life, one "that is more relevant to their adult lives, adult network, adult interests."

This post isn’t a response to T.J.’s ideas.  Since his post references service clubs, I saw an opportunity to bridge my love for fraternity with my love for these civic organizations.   It also occurred to me that many current undergraduates and fraternity alumni don’t quite understand these organizations.  I didn’t before I began working for one of them.

Bottom line: I believe that these organizations can provide the fraternity or sorority member with an outlet to express the values of his/her Greek organization after graduation.  

Service clubs might best be known for the logos you see as you drive into a city or town.  They have diverse names and histories, but also have a lot in common.  Each seeks to bring citizens together to serve their community.  It’s a very grassroots and democratic approach to social change.

As an example of what these clubs can offer, let me describe more fully one of them: Kiwanis.  I belong to Kiwanis and work for Kiwanis, and so I can speak best to this kind of experience.  

I guess the simplest way I’ve found to describe Kiwanis clubs (and service clubs in general) is to use the analogy of a road trip.  If you are a person with a heart to serve (the target market of service clubs like Kiwanis), then you likely want to make the world a better place.  That’s the destination of your life’s journey.  It’s the point on the horizon that you’re trying to reach.  The route to get there is service.  That’s the name of the road.

Many people will try to walk that road alone.  There is a heroic notion to the rugged individual walking an arduous path.  Fine.  But it’s a long journey fraught with exhaustion and frustration.

Like any journey, the service path is more easily traversed with a vehicle.  That’s what Kiwanis clubs are – vehicles to take a person along the road of service to their destination, to their vision of a better world.  It’s a vehicle large enough to accommodate lots of like-hearted people.

It’s not that Kiwanians are looking for a shortcut to get to their destination.  They just know they can go further – that they can achieve more – when they take the journey in a vehicle with others.  It’s also a heck of a lot more fun.  It’s like a road trip.  Members take turns driving based on their interests.  When you are feeling down or tired, someone else can take the wheel.  Laughter and fellowship make the journey easier.  Isn’t that what we have learned from our fraternity experiences as well?

Kiwanis Club of Lafayette (Louisiana) refurbishes a park.
Simply put, Kiwanis is a fraternity for men and women who believe serving others is a way of life.  Like a college fraternity, there are leadership opportunities and purposeful camaraderie.  But service is primary.  It’s the centerpiece on the table around which Kiwanians gather.

There is a great fraternal aspect to organizations like Kiwanis.  Because we rally around a shared purpose – service – we are able to build deeper friendships. 

If you came to my Kiwanis club meeting, you would feel fraternity.  There is love for each other in the way we joke with, laugh with, encourage, recognize, and push each other.  But now comes the caveat:  my club experience may be very different than the Kiwanis club experience in your community.  Each one – like each fraternity chapter – builds its own culture.  The best way to know if it’s the club culture and environment you want to is to visit and spend time with the members.

Fast facts…Kiwanis is for men and women…service focus is children with programs that covers all ages…perhaps best known for sponsoring youth service clubs including Key Club (high school) and Circle K (college)…worldwide with clubs in over 80 nations…almost 100 years old.

How do you join such an organization?  Track down the local club in your community (see below for link), and invite yourself to a meeting.  See how it feels.  See what the members are like.  When you’re ready to join, the club can walk you through the process.  These aren’t secret or exclusive clubs.  If you have a heart to serve, then I can say with confidence that you will be welcome as a member.

Josh Orendi of Phired Up Productions wrote a great blog post about visiting a Kiwanis club, which you can read here.

I strongly urge you to consider a service club when the time is right for you.  As members of fraternities and sororities, we are called to give the best of ourselves to the world we inhabit.  I have found that an easy way to live out the values of my fraternity, and to answer the call of leadership, is to ride in a vehicle called Kiwanis.  Simply put, I know that I can achieve more for this world in a Kiwanis club than I could alone.

Whatever your choice for how you express the values of your fraternity/sorority beyond campus, when it comes to giving generously of your talents, just keep two words in mind: never stop.

You can learn more about Kiwanis at and I invite readers to give their own testimonials of the clubs and organizations they belong to in the comments section (I'm looking at you Masons, Rotarians, Lions, Optimists, Toastmasters, Jaycees, Junior Leaguers, and others.)

The Best Leadership Strategy We Never Use

nce upon a time there were two sorority chapter presidents whose organizations were right next door to each other.  And each was dealing with a similar challenge.  Within each sorority, a handful of members had stopped attending meetings and other functions.

At the first chapter, the president stressed about this issue privately, trying to develop ways to re-engage these lost members.  The more she thought about it, the more frustrated she became about these members’ lack of commitment.  She pulled every leadership book she had and every binder from every leadership event.  She studied and thought and decided that she needed to take this issue head-on.  It's important for leaders to inspire action, right?

The next chapter meeting came and the president closed it with a speech about commitment and motivation.  She stood up and raised her voice, trying to use passion to deliver the message clearly:  this apathy would not be tolerated any longer!  Most of the members in the room nodded their head.  The missing members were…still…missing.

As such, things did not improve.  The disengaged members still did not show up to meetings and other events.  

Does Your Fraternity Need a Turnaround?

Does your fraternity or sorority need a turnaround?  Are you stuck in mediocrity, or worse, regressing backwards as an organization?  To use a sports analogy, are you in a slump?  Mired in a losing streak?

Well, if your organization needs a turnaround, sports is a good place to look for examples.  Let’s explore lessons from three big turnaround moments in sports, and the men who were the catalysts. 

From Worst to First

Jim Leyland recently stepped down as the manager of the Detroit Tigers.  Leyland was a successful manager, but was probably known more for his colorful personality.  He is famous for his arguments with umpires, his no-nonsense communication style, and for doing things like sitting for newspaper interviews in his underwear while smoking a pack of cigarettes.

 What I remember Leyland most for is a locker room speech that changed the fortunes of the franchise almost overnight.  When he took over as manager, the Tigers were one of the worst teams in baseball.  They were only a few years removed from nearly breaking the record for the most losses in one season.  When Leyland took over in 2006, expectations were higher, but nobody thought he could bring about immediate success.  Fans (like me) were still skeptical.  However, things looked very promising as the team started out with a 5-0 record.  Maybe a reversal of fortune was underway?    

And then the team lost 4 in a row, and started looking like the old Tigers.   The same pattern was emerging.  There was a feeling among fans that we were right back where we started.  Leyland decided he couldn’t stand for that.

Following a terrible 10-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians on a Sunday before a West coast road trip, Leyland went on a profanity-laced tirade in the locker room that could be heard by reporters and anyone else in the clubhouse.  He recounted it with reporters soon thereafter (h/t: Detroit Tigers Weblog):

Leyland: We Stunk. Next question.
Reporter: What bothered you the most?
Leyland: It was lackluster, the whole ball of wax was lackluster. We had a chance to take the series, take 3 out of 4, and we came out like we brought our luggage to the park like we had to play a game before we went on the road. That’s not good enough.
Reporter: It seems like this was your worst loss…
Leyland: Yeah we stunk period. We stunk and that’s not good enough. This stuff has been going on here before and it’s not going to happen here. We had a chance to take a series. I’m not talking about anyone in particular. I’m talking about the team, myself, the coaches, and everybody else included. It’s my responsibility to have the team ready to play today, and they weren’t ready to play. They were ready to get on the plane and go to Oakland. If they won it was okay and if they lost it was okay. That’s not good enough.
(emphasis mine)
Detroit went on to win 27 of their next 35 games.  And then they went on to win the AL Pennant and reach the World Series.  Leyland’s locker room rant is credited with flipping the switch that would then lead to almost a decade of success.  Turnaround.

The Reverend's Speech
And then there is the story of Hunter Pence, a member of the San Francisco Giants.  The Giants were a good team in 2012, and made it into the playoffs.  However, they struggled in the first playoff series and were on the brink of elimination.  Pence, who was fairly new with the team (via a mid-season trade) was not really known as a leader or inspirational force in the locker room.  But that all changed on the night of October 10, 2012.  Right before a decisive playoff game, Pence surprised everyone with an emotional speech.  Unfortunately, no cameras were available to capture it, but it was recounted by assistant coach Tim Flannery on his Facebook page:

"get in here, everyone get in here..look into each other! look into each others eyes, I want one more day with you, it's the most fun, the best team I have ever been on said the Reverend Hunter Pence. " and no matter what happens we must not give in, we owe it to each other, play for each other, I need one more day with you guys, I need to see what Theriot (jerry) will wear tomorrow, I want to play defense behind Vogelsong because he's never been to the for each other not yourself, win each moment, win each inning, it's all we have left"............for me an old coach it moved me like I have never been moved before...purity, real, passion, soul. the last of the holdouts this arrows being shot, no hey look at me, no spotlight on me, no dance but "play for each other"...honor the game the game honors you..don't know where and when it ends, but tonight I was proud to be together as a team, in a hostile environment, with just us..brothers that play for the name on the front, not the name on the back.
The Giants went on to win that night.  And win the next 2 games and the series.  And the next one.  And then the World Series.  Pence was credited with the turnaround by his fellow players, who had some fun recreating the speech in the video below.

A Promise Upheld
And the final example is Tim Tebow.

Tebow was the starting quarterback for a successful team that had the tools to win the championship.  The 2008 Florida Gators were undefeated and ranked 4th in the nation heading into a home game against Ole Miss.  The Gators were 22 point favorites.  And they lost.  Their national championship hopes were severely diminished.  Tebow addressed the media after the game:

Florida went on to win the rest of their games and the national championship.  Tebow’s

“promise” was credited with helping to refocus the team on their goal.  Without it, the team may not have regained its confidence.

(Side note – I’m always struck by how many detractors Tebow has, especially in the higher education community.  I would have taken this guy as my chapter or IFC president any day.)

So is the key to turning around a failing organization giving a speech?  Not necessarily, although all movements start with a spark.  Turnaround does take leadership, and based on these examples, it requires the kind of leadership that:

  • Is authentic;
  • Speaks to individuals’ hearts as well as their minds;
  • Calls on individuals to be better versions of themselves;
  • Is fueled by sincere passion;
  • Has a healthy mix of anger and optimism;
  • Isn’t afraid to display emotional investment.
There is also a high level of risk involved.  Each of these men stood out there alone and called out for something bigger and better.  If their teams didn’t respond, where would that have left them?

And it’s worth noting that these individuals likely built up enough credibility as leaders to be able to have these turnaround moments.  You may not be ready to challenge your brothers or sisters publicly, but you can start increasing credibility right now.  You do that by building relationships.  What you’ll find from Leyland, Pence, and Tebow is that while they could command a locker room, they were also regarded as all-around good men, friends, and teammates.  

Every good turnaround story starts with a moment of consequence and usually, with someone who cares.  Is that now?  Is that you? 

A Fraternity is Like a Mix Tape

I’m going to show my age in this essay, and I know full well that this will only “reach” a certain segment of the readership.  Please stick with me, even if you don’t know at all what this is ---->

I was a (self-proclaimed) master of the mix tape.  Whether it was to psych up for a sporting event or competition, or to enjoy a road trip, or to woo a young lady, I knew how to mix it just right.  It’s an art form, really.  Any person can just throw a bunch of songs onto a cassette.  But, that doesn’t make it a mix tape.  Mix tapes get their power from thoughtful design, song ordering, and transitions.  It’s like writing a book - there is a storyline in a good mix tape.

A mix tape is like life.  And so is a fraternity experience.  So, is it possible to mash-up these two things?  Here is my best attempt.

Here is how a fraternity or sorority is like a good mix tape:

It Has to Have a Purpose 
A mix tape without a purpose is like an I-Pod Shuffle.  There are good songs there, but no thread by which they connect.  Similarly, a fraternity can have good guys, but without purpose there is nothing around which to gravitate.  To focus. 

When you build a mix tape, you need to start with the reason why.  Are you trying to inspire better athletic performance?  Or trying to tell someone how much they mean to you?  With that focused purpose, choosing the right songs becomes simpler.

Here is an example, if I were building a mix tape with the purpose of evoking the essence of life’s journey, then I might start with a slow and reflective song with a good build-up - maybe like Pearl Jam’s “Release.”  I would then search for music that represents the circumstances of life, such as R.E.M’s “Half a World Away” to represent longing, Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You” to represent love lost, and Mumford and Son’s “I Will Wait” to evoke love found. 

For your fraternity, what is your reason why?  If it’s to live out the teachings of your Ritual (I hope), then you should choose members and initiatives that can help make that happen.

If you don't know your purpose, or select members that contradict your purpose, then the end result is disjointed and confusing. 

Variety Matters
The artistry of a mix tape comes from the variance in the songs selected.  If one side of your mix is all heavy metal and the other side is all broadway, then you haven’t made a mix tape.  You’ve made two compilations instead.  Mix tapes can find a way to blend genres like heavy metal with broadway and yet make it sound perfectly right.  This is difficult to do, but when you hit it right, it’s special.

It's a high risk, high reward endeavor.  I once made magic with a combo of Pachelbel 's Canon in D and Chumbawamba's Tubthumper.  On the flip side,  a blend of Andrea Bocelli and Poison doesn't work as well.

In fraternity, variety can be found in many forms.  A good fraternity experience will expose members to many different opportunities, including service, education, networking, and leadership.  A good fraternity experience should also expose members to different types of people - meaning that your membership should be diverse.  We grow the most in life because of the different individuals who come inside our life.  There is only so much we can learn from people who have similar life stories to ours.  

And besides, a mix tape with only the same type of music is boring.  As it is with fraternity.

Be Thoughtful About Time

Probably the most difficult skill to master as a mix tape maker is timing.  Cassettes only had a certain amount of time for each side (typically 30 or 45 minutes).  If you didn’t time it right, you could be recording the final song on side A and the cassette you were recording onto would run out and stop.  The sound of a tape stopping too early was heartbreaking.  I would
watch the reels in motion and pray that the recorded tape would hold out for 30 more seconds. Watching to black tape spool shrink smaller…and smaller...and...KERCHUNK.  Stopped.

Watch your time.  The undergraduate fraternity years - while not the only years through which to experience fraternity - are very special.  Before you know it, they will be gone. 

The opposite of running out of time on a mix tape is leaving too much soundless space at the end.  The space is begging to be used.

Make sure that you can say you took advantage of every minute you could, and that you left no tape unfilled. 

There is a Time for All Emotions
If a fraternity experience is done well, there will be plenty of time for laughter, frustration, anger, joy, sadness, inspiration and all other emotions associated with being human.  Only those things most vital and significant in life evoke emotions.  If your fraternity, or your college experience, or your job, or your marriage, any other major element in your life does not evoke emotions, then something is wrong.  We shouldn’t be afraid of endeavors that will make us vulnerable to emotions, and instead, we should search for them.

In the same way, a mix tape moves from good to powerful if it can evoke emotions.  Songs can send tremendously relevant resonance into our psyche.  My favorite mix tapes made me tap my feet at times, made me laugh at times, and made me cry at times.  Especially if they included Eva Cassidy.

Start and End Strong
If it’s not obvious by now, I’m old school in a lot of ways, and another indication is how I still like to view music albums as...well...albums.  I think an album should be judged on its entirety and not just on the 2-3 songs that will be played at wedding receptions or top 40 countdowns.  I admire bands that can build albums into musical experiences rather than just a collection of songs.  U2 could do this.  Pink Floyd too.  I’m not sure who in today’s music is really achieving this, but it’s hard now in the itunes generation.  We buy songs more than albums these days.  Anyhow, I think a good mix tape mirrors this, and especially knows how to capitalize its beginning and punctuate its end.

On the mix tapes I enjoyed the most, I would find a creative way to start the tape, usually involving a slower song with a dramatic buildup leading into a fast-paced rocker (old timers, think of Van Halen’s 1984 album).  I wanted to set the mood and draw the listener in.  Likewise, a good ending is essential for leaving the listener with the thought that they just experienced something big.  Garth Brooks was always excellent at closing songs on his albums (think “The Dance” and “The River”). 

In a fraternity experience, it’s not so hard to start strong.  We’re good at that.  We know how to make getting bids and initiation ceremonies a big deal.  We can launch our members forward with excitement.

But, too many of our members end their fraternity mix tape by their Junior year.  They start to see less value in the experience, or just turn their attention to something else.  Not only do I encourage fraternities to find relevant ways to engage older undergraduates, but I also encourage those older undergraduates to take it upon themselves to end strong.  Your experience is an asset.  Think about how you can seize these later days of your undergraduate experience and do things that matter so much to your fraternity, that the newer members have a inspired and lasting impression of you.  You become the powerful mix tape that stays in their mind. 

Most of you reading this have probably never made a mix tape, and never will.  Yet, you can make a fraternity experience.  You choose the message, you choose the music, you choose the time, and choose how it ends.  Make it one that you’d never want to stop listening to.

And one more thing.  I most strongly believe that...KERCHUNK.

Darn it.

Guide Dogs and Fraternity Obedience

If you've been reading this blog, you know by now that I believe a little defiance in the fraternity/sorority system should be accepted and appreciated.  After all, our organizations were founded to go against the mainstream of the day.  We were developed in defiance to the predominant attitude that education should be structured, conformist, controlled, and orderly.  Fraternities and sororities sought to add some humanness to stodgy and rigid educational environments in early America.  Thus, we shouldn't deny this is a continuing part of our DNA.  It can be one of our most beautiful organizational personality traits.

While we want our chapters to follow policies that will keep members safe, and we want them to stay committed to ethical decision making, we shouldn't prevent opportunities for the defiant side to emerge every now and then.  Who knows what kind of sparks will be created?  Maybe that one chapter does have a better way to approach recruitment.  Maybe the IFC is right about how to improve the risk management policy.

Maybe those sorority members at Alabama actually know better than the alums about who deserves to belong.

When we allow a healthy dose of independence to live within our fraternity and sorority systems, then we allow our members to develop their own thinking and their own solutions to problems. Sure enough, some will abuse that responsibility, which only makes campuses and headquarters want to take more control.  We just need to understand that because of the circumstances of our founding, control is something fraternities and sororities will always resist. 

But I think that's something to be appreciated. I was re-reading an old Ken Blanchard article, and came upon this passage, which made me smile. He is referring to the training of Guide Dogs:

Trainers take two kinds of dogs out of the program - the completely disobedient and the completely obedient. You'd expect the first group to be dismissed, but why the second? Because the only dogs trainer's keep are the ones that will do whatever the master says unless it doesn't make sense. Imagine letting dogs think! And yet, it would be a disaster if a Seeing Eye Dog and his or her master were waiting on the corner and the master said, "Forward." The dog, seeing a car speeding in their direction, shrugs his shoulders and thinks to himself, "This is a real bummer" as he leads his master into the middle of the street.  (p. 24)

Source: Blanchard, K. (1998). Servant-leadership revisited. In L.C. Spears (Ed.), Insights on leadership (pp. 21-28). New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons.


The War of Aspirations

The battle between those who want your worst, and those who want your best.

I used to think Total Frat Move was a distraction; that it was just another force - like anti-Greek movies or TV shows - that might deal a glancing blow to the fraternity movement, but at most would leave a small scar.  I've avoided commenting on it because I didn't want to prop it up at all.

But, a couple of things have changed my perspective.  The first is the growth of TFM as a media empire.  It's just too hard to ignore.  I guess a movie is on the way?  Great.

The second was listening to a mentor of mine in Greek life who said that he worries about TFM because it's becoming aspirational.  Many current and potential members are viewing TFM and Total Sorority Move not only as what Greek life is, but how it should be.  The more I consider this, the more I tend to agree.  And hence, the commentary that follows. 

There is a war going on right now in fraternity and sorority life.  It's a war over our aspirations.

In our lives, we should aspire to be do live for something.  This is fortune cookie wisdom, but should be repeated as often as possible. 

Because of that, we have many forces at play trying to influence our aspirations.  In our childhood, it's mostly our parents and siblings.  Then, we add teachers, coaches, and peers.  And in what could be the most influential time, we bring in college and subsequently, student organizations like fraternities and sororities.  

A fraternity or sorority experience can be life-directing.  I hope you believe that.

And so, your aspirations for how you experience your fraternity or sorority matter.  A lot.  You've been handed the keys to a beautiful vehicle.  Will you drive it to its fullest potential, or wreck it like a Ford Pinto at the demolition derby?

There is a tug of war.  There are forces trying to claim your aspirations; trying to define what it means to be a fraternity man or sorority woman for you.

I admit that I'm trying to do that with this site.  I believe in fraternity and sorority so much, that I cannot stand to see them tarnished by hazing, alcohol abuse, or any other debilitating problem.  I want the values and ideals we were founded upon to become front and center once again.  I am not alone on this side.  The professionals who work at your national office and in your campus student affairs office are likely on this side.  Many of you and your brothers and sisters are on this side.

This side desires for you to use the fraternity/sorority experience to create the best possible version of yourself.  To be self-aware, self-confident, and firmly believing that your talents and gifts are absolutely necessary in order for humankind to achieve its potential.  We want you to aspire to live an authentic life directed by the values you hold true - including those your fraternity or sorority instilled in you.

We want for you to aspire to live a life that you can be proud of.  To reach the end of your days with the knowledge that you lifted your community higher.

To do something big. Significant.  Positive.  Fraternal.

The other side is led by the purveyors of frat - which could include websites like Total Frat Move, Total Sorority Move, and Bro Bible. They are asking that you aspire to something much different. They are popularizing the idea that one should aspire to be the worst possible version of themselves.  The type of human beings that go though life noisily and selfishly, only to reach the end having done nothing of consequence except to drain resources.  To repeat a TFM tweet: "Smackin' asses and skippin' classes."

Sites like these are building a picture of fraternity that is based on boorishness and self-indulgence.  In this world women are referred to as "slams" and to be fratty is the honorable choice.  Women are expected to be superficial, and men are expected to be neanderthals (although strangely overly-concerned with what they wear).

This side wants you to aspire to nothing more than the couch during the day and the bar stool at night.  To aspire to this side's beliefs is to look at relationships as conquests and to experience life for only the tweets, posts, and next-morning high fives.  For this side, a fraternity is the perfect vehicle through which to start the long and empty journey towards a wasted life.  

I don't think I'm being too harsh here.

In this life, we are all left with a choice: to aspire for the best of our nature, or the worst.  I suppose we could aim for the middle as well.  But I'm wondering which side you're on?

It's not a fair measure necessarily, but social media statistics seems to show that the TFM side is winning.  The side that mocks integrity, celebrates sexual aggression, thinks drunk is a lifestyle, and basically props up jackassery in every

Are you helping them win?  When you allow yourself to accept TFM and TSM and all the others - then you are party to a complete shift in the college fraternity's or sorority's reason for being.  They will instead become the vehicles that strive to bring out our worst.  And you will have given them the license.

I'm sure I'll be branded as weak and too sensitive and too soft as a man for this perspective.  My only response would be that the manliest men I know - my father and both of my grandfathers - would not hesitate to kick my ass if I ever wrote something like this.

Those who advocate for the worst will likely claim things like life is not to be taken too seriously, or you only live once, or life is meant to have fun.  Trust me, you can still aspire to your greatest self and have fun.  I had a blast as a fraternity member and a college student.  I enjoyed the parties and the relationships and breaking the rules every now and then.  But the difference is, that never became the essence of who I was, or what my fraternity was.  My Greek experience took the ambition I had to make a difference, which was instilled by my parents, and accelerated it.  My Greek experience took me as a man and grabbed me by the shoulders and said, "you can be a better."  It didn't say, "go hook up with as many women as you can" or "try to black out as many nights as you can."  My Greek experience encouraged me to be more of a man, and not less of one.   

Maybe we can wake up a lot of potential members and current members to the dispiriting stench of these sites if we frame it as a choice.  Either choose to join those who appeal to and clamor for the worst of you, or join those who think that in this one shot we got on this earth, we need to aspire for our absolute best.

I have chosen my side.  People who cared about me and my life helped to bring me here.  I love the people I stand beside, and I love the fraternal world we are building.

It is not my goal to go to battle against the other side, or to try and stare them down.  It's my goal to work with you to build such an overwhelming movement towards the best of who we can be, that those who wish the opposite have no ground left upon which to stand.

You could say that's my aspiration.

Marching Together, For Something That Matters

Today we celebrate 50 years since the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which is the most well-known public demonstration for civil rights in our nation’s history.  It was at this event that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous address at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. 

In thinking about a post to commemorate this event and apply its lessons to fraternity, there were a lot of directions to consider.  To me, a lesson that resonates loud and clear from this march is timeless and appropriate to any organization or set of organizations that face tough challenges.  The human spirit is unstoppable when you march for something that matters.  And, when you remember that you're not alone.

I can’t know what it was like to face discrimination in the 1960’s, but I can appreciate the fact that it had to eat away at one's psyche and self-confidence.  Continuous hardship can beat down a person’s soul, and with it, their own personal courage.  There likely comes a time when it is easier to give up and just accept things for the way they are. 

As individuals boarded buses, trucks, and cars to come to Washington DC for the march, I’m sure there were many of them who were hesitant.  These individuals mostly wanted to speak out for what they believed in, but I’m sure a large part of each person wanted to simply see who else would show up.  Would this be a bust?  Would this act of defiance and protest be squashed by unmet expectations?  
“When we were going to the March on Washington, we didn’t know whether it was going to be violent, and we didn’t know if it was going to be a place where fear pervaded. The reality was, it was quite the opposite. Joyful doesn’t really describe it for me. It was like the physicalization of love. It was ecstatic perhaps, but it was not giddy and silly or ‘Let’s have a good time.’ It was a far deeper kind of joy. It went beyond joy. It was hard to describe, but it was the antithesis of fear, and it propelled us all into another channel in our lives.” – Peter Yarrow, Time Magazine #onedream
What they found were hundreds of thousands who shared their beliefs.  It had to be extraordinarily heartening to know that your beliefs were validated, that your worldview wasn’t the outlier, and that the pendulum had swung towards you and all your hopes and dreams.

That joy...that passion...that mutual commitment to something significant...that electricity of people connected by a spiritual and spirited feeling.  Could this all have been as important – if not more so – for the success of the march than any speech that was delivered?  After all, work needed to be done after the microphones were turned off and most likely every person who was among that crowd – and who knew they weren’t alone – left that mall with heightened confidence.

When you take on big things it’s nice to be able to take comfort in the fact that you are not alone.  That could describe the essence of fraternity or sorority.  The goal of a fraternity experience is to give you values, knowledge, and skills to navigate life.  In addition, it provides you with the people to join you on the journey. 

But why are some Greek organizations able to build a march-like experience that feels alive and important, while others feel completely ordinary if not lifeless?

Obviously I wasn't there, but after reading many personal accounts from those who were, it seems that these conclusions can be drawn about the crowd that day:

Everyone in that crowd believed they were doing something that mattered.  That human electricity wasn’t just manufactured out of thin air.  It wasn’t created by a series of icebreakers and get-to-know-you games.  It sprung out of the sense that these individuals were part of something big, something that really mattered.  I can imagine that when you looked into the eyes of a fellow traveler that day, it expanded your heart.  It moved you and kept you walking.  Do your members know why your fraternity/sorority matters?  Do you?

Everyone in that crowd put the cause above their own self interests.  It was a
group of individuals that arrived that morning, but it was a unified community that emerged by the end of the day.  Everyone retained their own personality, ambitions, and character, but all shared the imprint of that day on their minds and hearts.  They were forever changed and forever bonded by the march.  Think about how our Rituals can do a similar thing if treated with respect.

Everyone in that crowd allowed themselves to feel fellowship with every other person.  They were inclusive and didn’t dwell on differences.  The cause united them, just like a belief in shared values unites a brotherhood or sisterhood comprised of diverse individuals.  There was room for any person who was committed to the cause and could offer something to it.

Everyone in that crowd understood that they couldn’t have achieved this
alone.  The size of the crowd mattered for it showed that momentum was shifting.  The diversity of the crowd mattered, because it showed that this was a transcendent issue.  The fact that so many showed up (or joined in from afar) made this more than a rally.  It was history in the making.

It seems simplistic to say, but it can’t be said enough: fraternity or sorority is not something you can do alone.  Our power as organizations is derived from that fact.  We are built on the premise that relationships lead to better outcomes.  Otherwise, the Rituals and values of our organizations could just become self-help books that anyone could read.  Instead, it’s the people that gives our organizations expression.  If the values are our foundation, it’s the people that build the house.

Let’s honor the fact that we are organizations fueled by human relationships.  We will achieve more and enjoy the ride more if we pay attention to the “people power” we have. 

And take comfort in the fact that you are not alone.  You may think you are the only person in your fraternity, sorority, council, or Greek community that believes change needs to happen.  Start talking to your brothers and sisters.  Start describing what you think the organization could be.  You’ll likely find you have many allies who will join you on this march.  Remember that like the March on Washington, if you want to create change, who and how many you bring with you matter greatly.  You can’t make significant change alone, and you can’t make sweeping change without a crowd alongside you. 

Alone, all alone  
Nobody, but nobody  
Can make it out here alone. 
- Maya Angelou

So, imagine yourself that day 50 years ago, in the hot August sun, walking past the monuments of our nation’s past.  Imagine walking with purpose and determination.  Imagine the faces around you – their joy, their hope, their spirit.  Hear the singing and the shouts of change.  Imagine what true fellowship felt like that day.

Is it possible to replicate that feeling in any organization, much less a fraternity or sorority?  Perhaps not entirely.  But it can serve as a model for us of what it feels like when you march for something that matters, and you remember that you are not alone.


The Next Big Thing!

We have an inflamed desire in our society nowadays to be the next big thing.  We want to be talked about, to be applauded, to become renowned.  Simply put, we want to be buzzworthy.  This is true in the fraternity world as well, with national organizations, associations, campuses, and chapters trying to conceive of the next big idea that will put them on the map. 

This is often a good thing, because it can create competition, which can yield creativity.  Competition can fuel a marketplace of innovation in how to improve the fraternity experience.  There are chapter meetings, board rooms and staff meetings throughout the country in which groups are trying to figure out how to out-do and out-perform their peers.  To be considered the next big thing.

They have a  4-year member development plan?  Well, we need one of those!  They had their convention where?  Well let’s go here instead.   They took a group of students to a different country?  Well, our next leadership conference will be on the moon!

Apart from competition, or trying to keep up with the Joneses, groups will actively try to develop to brand new shiny initiatives simply to become the envy of the industry.  That’s just the nature of a crowded marketplace in which it’s difficult to stand out.  And again, this is not a bad thing, and can have great benefits. 

But I still witness some of these projects and programs, and wonder if they are purpose-driven, or publicity-driven?  It’s the macro version of the student who does service in a developing country.  Are they there for the service or just to get a new Facebook cover photo?

Sometimes, organizations look like they have A.D.D.  They are pushing out a different idea or approach each month, each quarter, each year.  They can’t seem to focus.  Jeff Cufaude described a concept in his TED talk called “Intention Deficit Disorder” or I.D.D. , which may more accurately describe what is going on.  When we don’t make choices based upon our intended purpose as an organization – when we aren’t intentionally focused on mission - then we can look like a mad scientist just trying to do whatever comes into our scattered mind. 

In crowded and noisy world, our desire to stand out as organizations seems more important sometimes than our desire to be intentional.  And why is this an issue?  It can take us further and further away from what we should be focusing on, and what really matters.  Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should.

Have you heard of mission drift?  It’s the dangerous practice of some organizations who start to believe that they can do things they weren’t meant to do.  They drift away from their mission like an untethered raft.

For chapter leaders - if you want to be or build the next big thing – then at least make sure it fits your intended purpose as an organization.  Instead of striving to have the party that everyone talks about, have the service project that they’ll be talking about for decades.  Instead of creating a buzz with catchy or borderline-offensive T-shirts, create a buzz by being the members who showed up in force for the Take Back the Night rally.  Instead of being noteworthy for your YouTube video, become noteworthy for your actions.  Instead of creating the homecoming float with the wow factor, well, go ahead and do that one.  You gotta have some fun too.

For those at the national staff or board level, where can we spot some mission drift as well?  Are all of our programs intentionally serving our purpose?  For example, if the purpose of a fraternity headquarters is to build chapters and serve chapters, is that what you’re truly doing?  Is that how staff resources are being deployed? 

Just something I’ve noticed: a lot of national organizations seem to have shifted to planning events and experiences that are focused on a small cohort doing some really exceptional adventurous experience.  Sounds great, and I’m sure those members’ lives are changed forever.    But, how many more members’ lives would be changed by a laser-focus on building higher quality chapter experiences?  Maybe both can happen, but we ought to be asking these questions.

The national organization that quietly focuses on the core – the chapters – probably doesn’t get the benefit of buzz that another organization gets from their “mind-blowing experience” events. 

For those at the IFC or Panhellenic level – you have to be careful to avoid getting swept up in the notion that your intended purpose is to do big splashy events (like an All-Greek BBQ).  You tend to want to find the next big thing in an event.  Your intended purpose is to govern the Greek community and to advocate for it.  Maybe the next big thing for you is to focus on those things and regain relevance as a council.

Overall, it’s interesting for me as someone now indirectly connected to the infrastructure of the fraternity/sorority movement to see the race for “the next big thing.”  Maybe we should all take a breath and remember that maybe it’s not our job to be or build the next big thing.  Our founders kinda did that already.  How might that realization clarify our work?