Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Fraternity and the Power of Reception

Let’s visit about the topic of new member education.

Recruitment numbers for Greek organizations are still rising, and from that standpoint, fraternity and sorority life seems healthy.  There now exists an opportunity to build the largest and greatest generation of fraternity and sorority members our movement has ever known.  Or, we could squander this chance. Will all these new recruits become an energizing and life-giving force that brings us closer to the true purpose of fraternity, or, might they do the opposite?  

For all the boasting I see from one national fraternity to the next about the record-breaking size of their initiate class, can even one of them boast that these new men or women are record-breaking in terms of being values-centric?  Or that their fraternities are meeting mission more than ever before? There are more people coming in the door, but can we truly say our movement is changing in any significant way? 

Other than it’s quantifiably bigger? 

For this next generation to bring fraternity closer to its ideal, they need to be the ones brought closest to the Ritual.  In support of this vision, it’s time to rethink the purpose and value of new member education.  

If the pinnacle of the fraternity experience is the Ritual and hence the revelation of her truths, then something very significant stands between a young man or woman’s decision to join and this profound moment: new member education. 

It’s time to truly examine the concept of new member education in fraternity and sorority life and frame it in terms of its true purpose.  Which of course begs the question…what is the true purpose of new member education?   

To get there, consider this thought which someone passed along to me recently: in order to receive a gift that is profound, one must be willing and prepared to receive it.  If they are unwilling, then the gift is dismissed.  If they are not prepared, then the gift loses its significance.  This is the power of reception.   

The Ritual is a gift.  It is the most precious gift the fraternity can bestow upon a member.  It is the gift that needs to be willingly accepted and received in order to attain the other gifts of fraternity, such as brotherhood and benevolence.  

And could it be that one of the fundamental problems in fraternity and sorority life these days is that we do not adequately prepare young men and women to receive this gift.  For most chapters, Ritual seems to act like a punctuation mark on pledging, but is not treated as the reason why we have new member education to begin with.  We cloud new member education with all sorts of ineffective and tangential elements and then leave the Ritual to stand alone in itattempt to be a watershed moment.  

And so, in my view, the primary purpose of new member education is to prepare men and women to receive the ultimate gift of the fraternity/sorority experience, the Ritual. 

If at the end of a new member education, a new member cannot say he or she is ready to receive the Ritual, and furthermore, after receiving the Ritual, cannot identify its lessons and the power behind them, then your new member education is worthless.  It doesn’t matter if the new member could stand on his head and recite the Greek alphabet backwards while juggling bowling balls with his feet. A powerful reception to the Ritual is the ONLY way to judge the effectiveness of your new member education. 

It’s not to say some of the areas you already focus on do not matter. 

New member education can teach the history of fraternity, for context is important for preparation. 

New member education can introduce the members to each other, since a supportive community can help aid in reception. 

New member education can focus on the development of self-awareness, since knowing oneself can more fully open one’s heart and mind to the Ritual.  
What it cannot do is weaken the will or fortitude of the new members through hazing or ridiculous and pointless activities. To enter into the Ritual in a weakened, broken-down, or inebriated state does not allow one to receive its power.  You can walk through the motions, but make no mistake what you have done through hazing, hell weeks, or the like: you have profaned the very essence of fraternity because you have stripped away an individual’s ability to be receptive to its core message.

So, what does a new member education program look like that prepares a person to receive the Ritual? One simple way to view it is to imagine that Ritual is like the Bible, and new member education is a Bible study.

Consider some of these “radical” notions:

What if the Ritual book was the textbook for new member education? And, the book was read and analyzed entirely before the ceremony of initiation? You could still hold a few of the secrets back. But the language in our Rituals is so verbose and carefully written, it's a lot for someone to absorb and appreciate by just listening.

What if our new members rehearsed the Ritual ceremony prior to it taking place? Weddings have rehearsals, and it doesn't make the actual wedding ceremonies any less important. It just makes participants more prepared and thus more able to comprehend what's happening.

What if the a new member's big brother / big sister was required to attend all new member education sessions as well, and their role was redesigned to be similar to someone sponsoring a new member into a faith community. In other words, their role is to help prepare the new member to receive the Ritual.

In previous posts I have argued that pledging is unnecessary and should be eliminated. My extreme position was based upon pledging and new member education continuing to be what it is today, and has been for decades. If it can be reformed to be an experience that equips a new member to have a powerful reception to the Ritual, then my argument changes from unnecessary to essential.

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