Seeking the Truth From Fraternity

I once had a conversation with Fraternity. 

I sought him out in order to discover the truth, and he received me warmly. He found in me someone who was confused and increasingly disenchanted.

“Fraternity, what is the truth about you?” I asked.

He looked at me with a smile, and replied “what do you believe it to be?”

I took a moment to collect my thoughts. “I get confused,” I shared. “I see conflict between what I believe you are supposed to be, and what it is you really are.”

He calmly asked me to explain.

The Manning Fraternity

“I don’t like the perception that it was a plan…that I was an NFL quarterback for a while and now I’ve got these boys and I’m going to mold them into being NFL quarterbacks. Not so. You might can do [sic] that. And they might can be [sic] an NFL quarterback. I’m not sure you’re going to have a good father-son relationship. That’s what I wanted.” - Archie Manning 

I’ve always been intrigued by the Manning family, which is likely the most significant family in football if not all of professional sports. As an Indianapolis resident, I’m naturally a Peyton Manning guy. Not only do I admire the way he approaches football, but life as well. My kids have received treatment at a childrens’ hospital that bears his name for goodness sake. While I don't root for Eli as much, you have to respect him for winning as many Super Bowls as his more famous bigger brother. 

What is most intriguing to me is the family dynamic itself, starting with parents Archie and Olivia. As parents raising three boys, my wife and I were interested to watch the documentary The Book of Manning on ESPN which details how this family yielded three athletic, successful, and accomplished men (Cooper was a great football player too but a disorder called spinal stenosis caused him to give it up in college). Even more than football, the Mannings have always projected a high degree of character and humility in all they do. They were great kids that became great men and as such, they had great parents.

Essentially, if the Mannings were a fraternity on your campus, they’d be almost everything we’d want in our Greek organizations.  (Archie is a Sigma Nu and Olivia is a Delta Gamma, by the way).

With that as the theme, what might the core values and principles of a Manning Fraternity be, and hence, lessons we can absorb?

1. Relationships Are More Important Than Football.

“I think what I miss most about football is the guys. Not winning or losing or catching touchdowns. It was the locker room, and the bus rides home. That was the good stuff." -Cooper Manning

One thing is evident in story of the Manning family - to be a quality person meant being able to build quality relationships. Whether it was with family, teammates, friends, and others, a focus on personal success meant nothing if you burnt bridges along the way. The Mannings raised their boys to be good teammates, friends, and brothers to each other.

In fraternity, there is nothing more important than the relationships you build. And like a family. those relationships are glued together by shared values. It’s what makes brotherhood and sisterhood truly unique concepts and transcendent from friendship. If you are a high achiever in fraternity and are seeking positional leadership, awards, and recognition, by all means go do it! But, remember that positions end, awards collect dust on the wall, and recognition is easily forgotten. Relationships remain, and last a lifetime. 

2. If we devote quality time to each other, we all grow stronger.

Archie Manning became a father while he was still an NFL QB (for a terrible Saints team that never had a winning season in Archie’s tenure despite him being a pro bowler himself). He would take the kids to the locker room, not to expose them to football only, but to be able to spend time with them. Archie’s relationship with his father was not very close and so he made it a point to be a present and attentive father to his children. Time matters. Not just the quantity of it, but the quality as well.

As a fraternity man or sorority woman, you have been given a gift. You get to ride your undergraduate college years in a vehicle like no other. This vehicle is not built only for you - but for all those brothers and sisters around you. The trip will be wasted if you don’t stop to take the time to truly get to know your fellow riders, find out what makes them tick, learn from their life stories, and build bonds that can help sustain you during the rocky times.

3. Embrace the differences in each person.

Each of the Manning kids had a different personality. Cooper loved to have fun, Peyton was very driven and serious, and Eli was independent and laid back. Each of those qualities came to be a hallmark of each person later in life. And having three different children with different personality styles is a challenge for a parent. Each one requires a different type of communication style, different approaches to feedback, and is motivated by different things. 

And then consider one of the most interesting parts of the Manning family story: Cooper. If not for spinal stenosis, Cooper could be a star in the NFL too. But he isn’t. Hardly anyone knows his name. His siblings have achieved the pinnacle of success in their professions and their parents have been photographed, filmed, and interviewed at every step along the way. In some families, this could have made the other brother bitter or resentful. It might have led to a breakdowns in the parent-child relationship. But because the Mannings viewed football as less important than relationships and character, and actually lived that way, you’d find no bigger fan of his brothers than Cooper. And while not famous, he’s just as big of a success in his profession and at home, with three children of his own (and one named Arch).

If your prime criterion of a good person is their character, then the other stuff stops mattering as much. Embrace the fantastic differences in personality, social styles, interests, and career paths that your fraternity contains. Don’t judge those things negatively or place false levels of importance on them. Enjoy them for the rich tapestry they create.  As life goes on, you’ll learn that such opportunities to be with so many different types of people won’t always be as easy to come by, and you'll miss it.

4. If you’re going to sign up for something, go all out for it.

“My dad’s rule was that if you’re going to sign up for something, you had to stay with it, no matter what it was.” - Peyton Manning

There is a great scene in the documentary when Peyton recounts a time in high school when he signed up for musical theater in order to avoid another class. Turns out he needed then to perform in the school play, and Peyton decided if he must, he might as well do his very best. Watch the movie to see Peyton do a fairly impressive tango.

It’s too bad that this kind of attitude doesn’t permeate our chapters. If it did, we wouldn’t struggle with member apathy as much as we do. However, it can certainly permeate your experience. You can personally decide to give as much as possible, and take as much as possible from your undergraduate experience. Since fraternity is a lifelong commitment, it also means to do as much as you can to be a contributing alumnus. For whatever reason, you signed up for this, so give it your all. As the Outward Bound maxim states, “if you can’t get out of it, then get into it!”

5. Common pursuits bring us closer together.

Cooper (the oldest) and Peyton has a fairly standard brother relationship as children - somewhat close and somewhat distant. There was a fair amount of rivalry and fighting. As a father to sons, I see it all the time. The boys can move from moments of pure love to pure hatred in the blink of an eye. In the end, brothers try to stake their own identities and thus, can lose the closeness they had in younger years. It's shared experiences that brings it back.

What brought Cooper and Peyton together in an irreversible way was the opportunity for them to play football together. When Peyton was a sophomore, he was the starting QB and Cooper was the senior star receiver. They made each other better and that shared experience overwhelmed any personal animosities or histories they may have had.

In fraternity, your Ritual, your creed, and any other expression of your organizational values are the shared experiences that should overwhelm any personal issues you may have. There are going to be fights, and disagreements, and hurt feelings in any human endeavor - especially one so based on relationships. What causes a fraternity or family to survive those things is the strength of the shared experience. The more you remind the members of the oaths and obligations they have all subscribed to, the more likely they are to get past the petty stuff. 

6. Be accountable for your actions.

In the film, Peyton recalls a time in high school when he wasn’t the most coachable kid. He always felt he knew how to do it better than the coaches and even one time told a coach that they lost because of him. Instead of siding with his all-star son, Archie drove Peyton to the coach’s house that night to make him apologize.

In your fraternity, what happens when a brother steps out of line? And not only those times when he might break a law or do something blatantly unethical - but also those times when he isn’t acting as his best self. Are you there to “drive” him back to the right choice? It’s easier to ignore the behavior, or even justify it, but easier choices never built stronger men or women.

Those would be, from what I’ve learned, the cardinal principles in the Fraternity of Manning. There are many other individual qualities the Mannings possess that we could discuss. Peyton is legendary for his level of preparation. Eli is well known for how calm under pressure he is. Archie and Olivia were so humble that they would dress incognito and take seats amongst the regular fans so as not to be a distraction away from whichever son was playing on the field.

They aren’t perfect. The documentary focused on their best qualities as a family, and surely there was struggles and hard times and controversy that we'll never know about.

And you might notice how little this article has focused on the game of football. I believe that the Mannings are successful because the game was always just a vehicle through which they could express the best versions of themselves. It’s where the character instilled in them by their parents and other relationships was actually put to the test. Their character only grew stronger by the lessons they could draw from the experience of football.

And isn’t that what fraternity can be for you?