Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Walking Dead Within

I'm not a zombie guy.  I've never really been interested in zombie movies, or zombie books, or zombie survival kits, or anything else connected to zombies.  The closest I've ever come was my fascination with the Michael Jackson Thriller video when I was 7 years old.  At least those dead people could dance!

But, zombies are a big thing in our culture right now.  Millions of you watch shows like The Walking Dead on AMC.  I'm sure many of you reading this are convinced of an impending zombie apocalypse and are storing rations.

Here's the thing.  We've been fighting a zombie apocalypse for years.  They have been attacking organizations like fraternities and sororities, and in most cases they are winning.

I'm not talking about true walking dead, although some of these organizational zombies might as well be.  These are the members who slowly drift throughout our fraternities as though they have no clue as to why they are there.  They follow instinctual urges to eat and drink, but don't do much else.  They seem to go missing during the day, but swarm us at nighttime activities like parties.  A fraternity zombie may just show up on our couch, murmur something as we go off to classes for the day, only to be found again in the exact same location when we return. And he's eating something rotten from the mini-fridge.

The zombies walk aimlessly, seeming to follow only the light of the I-phone they hold in front of their faces.  They carry the zombie look very well - unshaven, disheveled, untucked, vacant eyes, and a little blood oozing for their mouths (or is that ketchup?)

Most of us choose to ignore them.  After all, these aren't flesh-eating zombies who will cause us physical harm.  But, even though they don't chomp on our brains, they could very well be eating away the soul of our fraternity.

The oft-repeated reality of organizational life is that 20% of the group does 80% of the work. That other 80% of the group is comprised of a lot of zombies.  And, zombies create other zombies, right?  If new members see that being mostly dead is an accepted way to experience the fraternity, then a good number of them will take that option.  Soon, the percentages grow more and more in favor of the zombies, and eventually, your fraternity might as well board up its windows and give in to the apocalypse.

Two things create zombies in your fraternity: poor recruitment and low expectations.  If you recruit zombies to begin with, then it's almost impossible to liven them up.  But let's say you recruit really strong members.  Lets give one a name - Mark.  Mark is excited to receive his bid and is ready to go.  He then experiences an unstructured, lifeless, new member education program.  Mark is initiated in a Ritual ceremony that is performed is a shoddy, lifeless way.   Mark attends his first fraternity meeting, which is boring, poorly attended, and yes, lifeless.  Do you see where this is going?  Add in the many other zombies in the chapter who start to get their fingernails into Mark, and soon enough, he too is lifeless.

So what is the zombie survival kit for fraternities?  You have a few choices with the zombies in your organization.  You can ignore them, but like the heroes in the movies, you do so at your own risk.  Another choice is to try to change them.  This is a noble choice, and one you should first pursue.  The key is to investigate what caused them to zombify and then actively try to find their points of energy.  Perhaps they just don't know where to apply their strengths, which is something you can help them with.

The more likely choice is to help them move on.  Most can't be saved.  It's for their benefit and yours and they no longer enjoy the privileges of membership.

Here is the way to start your plan of attack: assemble a zombie fighting team (perhaps your executive officer team), and spend some time determining how rampant of a problem it is for your group.  You might classify them according to whether they can be saved or not.  Next, spend time in a meeting addressing questions such as these:
  1. What are our expectations for committed membership? (consult bylaws, Ritual, creed, etc. as guides)
  2. Where, and how often, do we set clear expectations for what it means to be a good member?
  3. In what ways do we actually celebrate poor choices and behavior from our members?
  4. When was the last time we asked a zombie to leave the fraternity, and what's preventing us from doing that more often?
  5. Identify 5 zombies in your fraternity, and then ask: what is similar about these individuals or their fraternity experience that could have caused their disengagement?  What themes can we see in their experiences?
  6. Do we have any zombies in our officers/chapter leaders?
Then, your solutions ought to start to materialize.  A couple of answers might be to spend time redesigning your new member education program and/or your standards board.  Fraternities that have fewer zombies have better programs in place for education and accountability.

So, in conclusion, continue to enjoy your movies and TV shows about zombies.  But, be aware that once you turn of the TV, you may be confronted by real ones lurking on the other side of the door.   Our greatest enemy in fraternity and sorority life is not the media, or the campus administrators, or any other external force.  Our greatest enemy is within our walls.  The fraternity experience is meant to be seized by those who want to be better and make others better.  The fraternity experience is too valuable to be taken over by the walking dead.  Don't let them destroy your fraternity from the inside.  Don't let them win.

1 comment:

  1. My name is Jack, and I am with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Greek System. This article in particular spoke to me because my chapter recently dealt with having to get rid of the "zombies" in our chapter, because there was so much dead weight it was hindering our ability to conduct business, have socials, and meet certain standards that our university expects from us. We were able to cut the dead weight through the use of Jboards and a wave of suspensions that cut our chapter size by 1/3, but made us a much more cohesive, productive group whose bonds are stronger for it. Our newly elected council has set the precedent that we are taking a no nonsense approach to members that do nothing but pay dues and do not contribute. We have utilized rewards and incentives programs to motivate the entire chapter to do good work, not just the elected council, and we have also set heavy fines for not doing what is expected of you, both of which have successfully motivated 85% of our chapter to positively contribute, and help us accomplish more in one semester than we have in several. It took getting rid of the zombies that were holding us back to do so.