Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Framing Fraternity

There is an old leadership parable that I heard once, and has resonated with me ever since:
A woman saw three men laying bricks…
She approached the first and asked, "What are you doing?"
Annoyed, the first man answered, "What does it look like I’m doing? I’m laying bricks!"
She walked over to the second bricklayer and asked the same question.
The second man responded, "Oh, I’m making a wall."
She asked the third bricklayer the same question, "What are you doing?"
The third looked up, smiled and said, "I’m building a castle."
I believe that in life, how you frame your experiences determines how you live them.

If you believe you are laying bricks, then that’s what you will do.  And that’s the limited experience you will face when you get out of bed each morning. 

And if you believe your fraternity or sorority is just another extracurricular activity or club, then that’s all it will be.  All it can be. 

There are some things I theorize about or philosophize about on this blog, but this I know for
a fact: a fraternity can be much more than just another club.  I know this because I experienced it.  Many of you reading this share this understanding.  When you go to national events and look in the faces of dedicated advisors and alumni volunteers, you can see that they know it as well.  

As a fraternity or sorority member, you hold in your hands the key to possibly the greatest leadership development vehicle ever invented.  You can choose to just park it, or leave it in neutral, or you can choose to drive.

 Pedal to the metal. Windows open. Drive.

 When a family member, or a professor, or a recruit asks you to describe fraternity, what do you tell them?  Do you recite brochure-speak, such as “we’re a social organization that fosters leadership, service, academics, and brotherhood?” (I almost fell asleep as I wrote that).  Or do you frame it as something more? 

If a fraternity is a large, awe-inspiring, and glorious fresco, we tend to talk about it like it's a wallet-size photograph of a flower pot.

If we frame fraternity to be as powerful as it truly can be, then it will cause ourselves and
others to treat it with the respect it deserves.  And thus, treat it better than we do today.  Framing fraternity differently also can mean we attract those who believe in something greater, and who believe that they themselves are greater.  And then we – as fraternities – become greater. 

Before I joined a fraternity, I framed it as a traditional activity that you had to check off your list if you wanted to have the quintessential college experience.  Once I joined it, learned the values, felt the brotherhood, and let the highs and lows of leadership wash over me, I started to truly comprehend its power.  For me, it became life-altering.  And as I observe the power of fraternity from the vantage point of an alum who continues to use its teachings, I now frame fraternity as a movement to bring urgent values and vital leaders of character to a world hungry for them.

Therefore, a little something more than just another club.

Reframing can add meaning to other aspects of fraternity and sorority life as well.  Think about how our experiences could be better if we framed:
  • Fraternity initiation as the starting line, and not the finish line.
  • A little sister or brother program as mentorship-building and not just  friendship-building.
  • Becoming an alumni as the time to accelerate fraternity and not to leave it behind.
  • Community service as a chance for members to clarify personal convictions, and not just a PR opportunity.
  • Chapter meetings as a weekly chance to celebrate fraternity, and not just a time to conduct business.
Reframing can change our attitude, but also our behavior.  The Greek Advisor who sees the student in their office as just another appointment will handle that conversation differently than the advisor who frames it as possibly the greatest opportunity he/she may ever have to push a young person to new heights.  The second advisor probably won’t be glancing at the clock or their email inbox throughout the conversation.

 And for those graduating soon, how are you framing this time in your life? Will your next step be to just get a job, or something more?  Maybe it's the first chapter in your manifesto on how to build a better world, for example.

So ask yourself, what kind of frame are you building for your fraternity experience?  For your life? Is it something ordinary, basic, and forgettable?  Or something truly majestic?

I see a castle.  Do you?

1 comment:

  1. Great post, John.

    I live by a simple credo attributed to NIC Gold Medalist, Mr. Phi Psi, Ralph Daniel, better known as Dud

    "Let us be who we say we are...a FRATERNITY, not a Club; run by MEN, not boys; and based on IDEALS, not expediency."