My favorite rock band is Pearl Jam, and one of their latest songs, Lightning Bolt, has a great lyric:
Always something and never nothing,
Isn't that the way we're taught to be?
Flipping through the worn out pages
And stages when you knew not who to be,
Until the lightning strike sets you free.
“Until the lightning strike…sets you free.” A lightning strike can personify a moment of extreme significance - one that hits you so hard, you are forever changed. As the lyrics state above, our lives can take on a very routine, comfortable quality. But then, as the old adage says, life happens. In fact, life can probably be described more in terms on the number of lightning bolts that strike, not the rarity of them. Lightning strikes all around us all the time. What’s rare is that we are directly hit by one of these strikes – these life-altering bolts of energy – and answer their call; or allow them to set us free.
A fraternity or sorority can be a lightning strike, in two senses:
In the positive sense, imagine a young undergraduate whose life map is seemingly carved in stone already at the age of 18. Each step along her educational path has led her to this college, to a certain major, and a certain career destiny. And then, she meets a sorority woman. She attends a function and begins to understand what sorority is and can be. And then the bid card is delivered and ZAP. Lightning strike. Her fraternity experience introduces her to different perspectives, different people, different career paths, and the power of service. She discovers new things about herself that she never realized before, and a sense of calm clarity falls over her as she charts a different course (now with sisters standing by her side). “Until the lightning strike…sets you free.”
Perhaps the longevity of the fraternity/sorority movement can be explained by the fact we continue to be one of the few entities that can offer lightning strike moments. So much of our involvement and activities in our young lives are too narrow these days. We tend to now pick one sport to focus on. Or one after school activity. For better or worse, a lot of childhood years are spent building deep capacity in one endeavor instead of light capacity in many.
Fraternities and sororities are enterprises that provide many diverse opportunities and ways to engage. In that way, they can be life-changing.
Our organizations can be the things that inspire someone towards greater self-discovery, and open doors never before considered. We can enable individuals to find their ability to work collectively towards something that matters and understand the influence of relationships.
Or, in the other sense, we can be the lightning strike that brings harm. The lightning strike that takes an individual and shocks away his dignity and self-worth by hazing him. The lightning strike that forever disrupts a person’s potential by surrounding him with apathy and debilitating choices. The lightning strike that kills or maims through a culture of drugs or alcohol. A lightning strike that burns and scars forever.
Which lightning strike – today – is your fraternity likely to be for the new members you invite in this Fall?
While there is no way to completely control a member’s experience, or how the fraternity impacts his/her life, there are conditions more favorable for a lightning strike that’s charging and life-giving instead of one that’s destructive:
- Does the fraternity accept diversity and independence of thinking (instead of strict conformity)?
- Does the fraternity allow members to engage with their strengths and at their desired level of involvement?
- Does the fraternity offer rich opportunities for learning and education?
- Is the fraternity as comfortable (or moreso) with interactions that are alcohol-free as it is when alcohol is involved?
- Do older members offer their experiential wisdom with younger members?
Any organization that provides lightning strike moments is one that is eminently relevant. People, whether consciously or subconsciously, seek these out. Deep within us is a desire for our lives to be disrupted – to let go of routine. If your organization is just another sunny day in an already sunny existence, then what value are you adding?
Lightning strikes in nature are serious business, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. In the figurative sense, do not be afraid of lightning strikes in your life. Your fraternity experience may be that for you, or you might be surprised as to when they come. Look up and embrace their arrival, for this next lightning strike may be the one that sets you free.
(and by the way kids, THIS is rock and roll)