Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Day He Wore a Fraternity T-Shirt

“Ladies and gentlemen, we regret to inform you that due to mechanical problems, flight 1856 with service to Miami has been cancelled.” 

Rory looked up with disbelief.  There had been no warning of this – no delays or anything.  He looked around and noticed that everyone else in the gate area was surprised as well, holding emotions on their faces that ranged from frustration to instant rage.

“Please proceed to the service counter near gate 39 to be re-booked on the next available flight.” 

The crowd at the gate stood, most with a huff of annoyance.  They began to walk towards the service counter and the anger grew with every step.  The day would surely be ruined for everyone.  Plans would be cancelled.  Long stays at the airport or possibly at a hotel would be necessary.  

And Rory was angry too.  He was on his way to meet his fraternity brothers for a spring break cruise, and if he didn’t get to Miami soon he’d miss the departure.  

They formed a long line at the service counter, which added insult to injury for those who had not sprinted there to be first.  As the crowd stood, frustration grew and was shared and spread by the mass of people with the same intensity as a whispered rumor.

One by one the passengers approached the counter.  The women working behind the computer stations were the targets of pent-up anger and were greeted by most passengers with stern and harsh voices.  Not one person seemed satisfied with their re-booking, and each argued vehemently until it was clear there were no other options before sulking away.

The gate agents looked worn and beaten after every attack. They were trying to keep calm but slowly, they felt the urge to fight back.  It was a caustic scene.

Rory was getting closer to the counter, and preparing his own arguments and ideas.  A different airline perhaps, or routing through a different city.  He would be firm and stand his ground. Like others, his irritation had grown to fury and he was ready to fight the hapless gate agent as needed.

And then, by chance, he happened to look down.

And he was reminded that the shirt he had chosen to wear to the airport that day was one from his fraternity.  Large Greek letters were stamped to his chest.

And this made him pause.  He had been taught as a new member to not do anything stupid when wearing letters.  And it struck him that yelling at a gate agent, who was no more at fault for the cancelled flight than he was, was pretty stupid.  He certainly couldn’t lay into this woman with all his fury and then have her and everyone around him think that members of his fraternity were jerks.

The awareness that he was clad in fraternity letters caused Rory to reconsider his position.  Each person in front of him in line had made the gate agent’s life miserable.  Each was projecting his or her ruined day on the employee and ruining her day in turn.

What if, Rory wondered, he did the opposite.  What if he was so nice and friendly that he became the best part of her day?  What if she went home and talked to her husband or kids and told them about her horrible day, except…except for one guy…one guy in a fraternity t-shirt?  He was proud of himself for thinking of this strategy.  He puffed up his chest a bit more and walked to the counter.

And he was all grace and charm.  He was helpful, complimentary, and easy to deal with.  He didn’t yell, but rather offered gentle suggestions.  In the end, he didn’t get an ideal outcome, but it was one that was good enough.  He would arrive to Miami just in time to make the boat.

Rory left the counter with a hearty thanks, and the weary gate agent smiled.

And Rory walked with pride and confidence in himself.  He was a good guy.  He promoted his fraternity well.  He made dozens of people think highly of his fraternity.  He could only imagine how many people in line said “Wow, what a great guy!  That must be what a fraternity member is like!” 

He kept walking down the bustling airport corridor until suddenly he stopped.  He stood still as a sea of people passed around him.  He looked down at his shirt and his joyous thoughts turned sharply into self-loathing.   

Rory recognized in himself a very important fact – that without seeing the shirt he was set to be a prickly jerk just like everyone else.  

The shirt had caused him to change his behavior.  No – not the shirt – the need to promote his fraternity caused him to change.  He was nothing special.  He wasn’t a prince.  He was a guy that was worried about image more than character.

Rory considered that the behaviors he had summoned: kindness, generosity, helpfulness, were all behaviors that his fraternity expected him to carry forth all the time.  They were prominent in the Ritual and in other places where the values of the fraternity were stated.

And so it occurred to Rory that the only thing this incident demonstrated was that he wore the fraternity on his shirt, but not yet in his heart.

If Rory was indeed as much of a fraternity man as he projected a few moments before, he could have been wearing any plain t-shirt and still made the choice to be the best part of the gate agent’s day.

While he was glad that the shirt was there today – as a tool to remind him of the values he believed in – he knew that they next step was to act in that way all of the time.  In doing so, he was making the most significant decision a fraternity man can ever make: to decide that from that day forward he would live the values of his fraternity.

And what if all 100 members of his fraternity chapter made that decision?  What if the thousands of his brothers across the country did as well?  What if every fraternity man pledged to live that kind of life?  What if it were assumed - without the need to see the letters on a shirt - that a young man carrying himself with generosity of spirit must be a fraternity man?  How far might the fraternity movement be advanced?

How might this entire world be better?  

Rory grabbed his bags. He joined the sea of people again but yet, stood apart from them.  And it wasn't because of the shirt he was wearing, but rather because of who he pledged to be.

Rory had a plane to catch. And a fraternity life to lead.


1 comment:

  1. Absolutely true. The positives need to outshine the negatives for the Greek system while giving its members the gift of life lessons. Love this