Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Senior’s Thanks

“Gentlemen, please be quiet!”

The roar of the room continued unabated.

“Gentlemen, please!” the President shouted again.

“Guys SHUT UP!” offered the much more forceful Vice President, who was blessed with a thunderous voice. The room finally settled down.

“Thanks Seth. Welcome guys to our annual Thanksgiving dinner. Rhonda did an absolutely wonderful job – let’s thank her.”

Rhonda answered the cheers and applause by standing up to take a showy bow. She knew how to handle these guys after several years in service to them.

The President continued: “Don’t start eating just yet. Before we do, let’s go around the room this year and each person can say something they’re thankful for.”

Moans and groans were accompanied by someone shouting “let’s impeach the president!”

The room cheered and a dinner roll found itself narrowly missing the President’s head. He laughed. “Hey – this is what my family does, and I claim each you as family. Even Landry.”

“F*#@ you” said Landry.

“Let’s start to my left.”

“I’m thankful for food. Can we please eat now?” the first brother quipped.

“Keep going,” said the President.

“I’m thankful for all you guys,” said the next brother. He was met with a chorus of sarcastic awws.

The next brother said “I’m thankful for Delta Zeta!” “Damn right!” shouted another.

And around the room they went, one after another, some comments serious but most were half-hearted and meant to show one’s wit in favor of one’s vulnerability.

And then it was the Senior’s turn. He was the only Senior to arrive tonight, and some of the youngest guys had only met him a few times.

“I guess I’m thankful for a lot,” he started. “But I’ll be clear tonight in saying that I’m thankful for this fraternity.”

“Okay let’s eat now!” interrupted the first brother.

“Hold on,” the Senior said. “I’m not finished.”

“I’m thankful for every moment – good, bad, or otherwise – spent in this fraternity so far. I’m thankful for every man seated around these tables tonight. I am thankful for the fun times, the laughter, the hijinks, the pranks, and more.”

He continued: “I am thankful in equal measure for the times that were uncomfortable, challenging, and miserably difficult. Maybe even moreso. I tend to think most of who I am was forged by the fire of hard times.”

The room had become very quiet.

“I am thankful for all of you that came to my grandpa’s funeral. You made that sad day exceptionally special.”

“I am thankful for Doug. I bet you a million dollars I would have never met a guy like Doug if not for this fraternity. And I’m thankful for Jeff. Those who know me know that Jeff and I have never gotten along. In fact, there are times we downright hated each other. We may never see eye-to-eye, but Jeff, I respect you and I am absolutely thankful for you.”

“I am thankful for all those who surround us and try to make us better. Our alumni board, our chapter advisor, Rhonda. They have made a choice to give a part of their lives away, so that our lives can be stronger. That’s selfless stuff guys. We owe them our best – and consider that every time you’re about to do something stupid.”

“Speaking of that, I’m thankful for surviving all of my stupid moments. I’m going to make sure the lessons I’ve learned are passed on to you.”

“I am thankful for Delta Zeta too. And every other sorority on this campus, for making us work at being gentlemen. Our future wives will appreciate it.”

“I am thankful for the courage I’ve seen in this fraternity over the years. The courage for Paul to take that step to leave the fraternity so that he could get his act together. The courage for Bryce to help Paul realize that. I’m thankful for Gavin’s courage in coming out. And I’m thankful for the courage all of you had in learning to first accept it, and now appreciate it.”

“I’m thankful that we’re all there for each other. I wonder if we’ll truly ever appreciate how special it was to have these connections during this time in our lives.”

“I’m thankful for that guy from the national office who was here last week. Yeah, okay, boo if you want, but think about his vocation right now. It’s to visit dopes like us, help us better understand the power of this thing we belong to, and ultimately help us live closer to the ideal. I’m thankful he came into our lives and I know you are too.”

“I’m thankful for our potential. I’ve decided that potential is like a wild bird that is hard to grab, and harder to hold. But I’ve seen us hold it. We’ve held it in those moments in which we stepped outside of ourselves to help a brother in need. We’ve held it when we’ve stared down the popular choice and went for the right one instead. We’ve held it when the moment stood larger than us, but we found a way to rise to it anyhow. But we’ve also let the wild bird go. Too often. But, in a way, I’m thankful for those moments too. Why make this whole thing easy?”

“I’ll say it again - I am thankful for this fraternity. I am thankful for each and every word of each and every oath I’ve ever said in its name.”

“I am thankful for the badge you allow me to wear, which is a privilege earned by faithfulness to our Ritual and creed.”

“I am thankful for the chance to sit here with my brothers a different man, a better man, than I was three years ago. And I promise to all of you, and to this fraternity, I will do all in my power in the life ahead of me…to make you thankful for me.” 

The room was made silent by his words. 

What couldn’t be heard, but could be seen if you were there, were small acts of men telling other men how much they were loved. One brother gripped the shoulder of another. A brother gave a sharp punch into the shoulder of the brother next to him. Another brother wiped away a tear before it could be seen. 

The almost spiritual quiet was finally broken by that first brother, speaking a little more gently this time. 

“Can we eat now?” 

The President smiled wide. 


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

It's Time to Leave Washington DC

There is a great analogy used to describe the differences between the logical/rational part of our brain and the emotional part. The emotional side is like a large elephant and the rational side is a man riding that elephant. On occasion, the man can steer the elephant where he wants it to go. But, should that elephant get riled up and start charging, there is nothing the man can do to stop it.

And that is the primary reason why the fraternity groups pushing to pass the Safe Campus Act should withdraw, lick their wounds, and find a new initiative. The elephant is running wild.

There are some logical reasons why the Safe Campus Act makes sense (or at least portions of it). Rape is second only to murder in terms of egregious crimes (think of how often you hear “murderers and rapists” used as a blanket term for the worst of our society). And so, to think that such a crime committed on a college campus might not have to involve the police or legal representation is strange at a minimum.

Now – if reading that paragraph made your blood boil, then notice the elephant running wild in your mind. You probably thought to yourself, “why would he give a flip about the accused, what about the victims?! Why protect the rapists?!”

Being concerned for those falsely accused of a crime that egregious, having empathy for victims of rape, and having hatred for those who actually commit the heinous act are ideas that can all live in the same space.

There are great arguments on the other side of this issue as well (found amidst the moral self-righteousness that has become a bit suffocating). It’s a contentious issue with strong points on either side and we should be careful to not assign evil motives to those holding a position different than ours.

Oh wait, it’s 2015. We do that all the time now.

The fact of the matter is, the emotion in this debate has won and supporters of the Safe Campus Act have lost the ground to make their case. It’s time to make it go away.

Let’s think about our whole presence in Washington.

We don’t need to be in Washington DC to influence or advocate for an issue. It’s not the only place where change happens (in fact, it may be the place change goes to die). I believe that the allure of the congressional offices, the swanky receptions and dinners, and the ability to feel like the levers of government were moving by our gentle hands seduced us into a bad and dysfunctional relationship.

We’ve spent over a decade lobbying with no significant legislation enacted to improve the state of the fraternity/sorority industry. Millions have been raised for the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee (unfortunately dubbed the Frat Pac).  Millions that could have been raised instead for efforts to grow the fraternity industry or provide education to our members.

This controversy over the Safe Campus Act is a gift. It’s a way for the industry to say that it’s time to regroup on these legislative initiatives.

In fact, it’s time to go on hiatus and leave Washington DC altogether.

There is an argument that a presence in Washington is always needed because our single-gender status and right to freely associate is always in jeopardy. It’s hard to believe that if those core issues were ever truly in serious danger we couldn’t ramp up an effort to advocate and fight for our rights quickly.

Just ask yourself how many attorneys are on your national board right now. Multiply that by a factor of one-thousand. We’ll be okay.

Leaders in the NIC and NPC: you shouldn’t be blamed or called nefarious for trying to be a champion of Greek life and our members in the halls of government. Don’t be too proud, however, to close this current saga for now. Whether these newest efforts are just or not, the emotional charge is too great to overcome. Soon the damage to our reputation might be as well.

If this is an issue we really have passion for, let’s take it back to the grassroots and have them help us figure out a way forward.

Let’s start doing again what we do best, which is not shaking hands with and embracing congressional staffers, but rather, shaking hands with and embracing our own members.