Some time ago, a group of young students met somewhere on campus to establish a code of friendship between them. To establish an everlasting bond, they utilized elements of secret societies and religious organizations, cementing their common bonds in ritual.
They selected several symbols to represent their common bond, a motto that each who joined into the group would swear and agree to, and a sense of pride. It was this group of people at this college who would love and support the development of one another through and beyond the walls of their educational institution.
One never enters into a friendship assuming that it’s time is limited by anything beyond random circumstance. We hope that the friends we make are for life, though most of us acknowledge that such cannot be the case.
In cementing, naming, and ritualizing friendship, our group of students pledged that the blessing of a higher education was an opportunity to better their own lives and, through their support system and work in advanced fields after college, to better the human condition.
As students graduated, new, younger friends emerged and were too initiated into the club, creating a bond not only among those who graduated and worked together, but between generations of students. These extended bonds opened new doors and created new opportunities, for those who left college had a home to return to, a home built by students of a similar worldview and opinion of friendship.
Fraternal pride is essential to the longevity and relevance of a fraternity or sorority. In the way that we Americans take pride in the advances we have contributed to the human condition over our short history as a modern nation, so too do individuals take pride in their work, philosophy, and circles of friendship.
If one were not to take pride in the latter, why associate with a group of friends at all?
That sense of pride in who we are and those with whom we associate is what brings the alumni of fraternities and sororities back to their college or university and further encourages them to support and maintain the institution of higher education. .
That pride in who we are and those with whom we associate is what encourages those who are nearing the end of their life to reach out in hopes of support or in hopes to support those they know to be of the same feather regardless of whether or not those they reach out to are close and personal friends.
The necessity of pride is often underplayed nowadays, but has since our founding(s) added a unique sense of character to our organizations. Pride can be abused and lead to destructive actions, but that is not a reason to swear it off altogether. That is unfortunately, to many of us, the perceived direction of today’s fraternity/sorority leadership.
In those cases as with politics, religion and science, too much confidence in oneself and one’s circle can divert him or her from maintaining the structures and ideals that are necessary to keep alive what he or she cherishes. Too easily is pride consumed by partisanship, where those of one circle treat those of another as a threat rather than an opportunity to collaborate in areas of agreement.
(Note: collaboration does not require compromise. See: “areas of agreement”)
The tussles between fraternity chapters can stick with alumni members long after college. Alliances and rivalries change over the years, but what one alumnus remembers as an enemy of the chapter will remain so for as long as he lives.
On a national scale, these alliances and rivalries exist on a much more politically correct level, though the stakes of actions taken at such levels are far greater than rivalries between temporary students at one school. The pride and loyalty brothers build in one another is often co-opted to support organizational initiatives unrelated to the establishment of strong, permanent bonds in one’s immediate life.
As important as ritual is, it cannot replace time in building an everlasting bond, and should never be a tool guilt those loyal to their fraternity to partake in uniform, synchronized actions equivalent of political or religious partisanship. Despite the labels, fraternity is about enhancing one’s individuality, not creating cookie cutter moulds of men.
Fraternal partisanship is destructive not only in its blinding of individuals from empathizing with others outside of their circles, but in building resentment between members of an organization due to differing priorities or understandings of the ideal fraternity experience.
I am not proud of my fraternity because of its letters, ritual, programs or charity. I am proud of my fraternity because of the brilliant friendships I have made within it and the role models I have come to respect out of it. That is the case for almost every student and alumnus I speak with outside of the professional fraternity/sorority world. An educational program or fundraiser may occasionally improve a young man’s self esteem, but friendship and brotherhood are certain, time-tested methods.
Fraternities and sororities were founded as “friend clubs,” as much as we try to distance ourselves from that reality. That is the source of our pride in fraternity, the friendships we build. The values and missions associated with our organizations are a byproduct of the value a college education should have in shaping society.
It is true that a common set of ideals and a commitment to the maintenance of a national fraternity structure are valuable in making long-lasting and positive change a reality. It is true that spreading those ideals through the establishment of new circles of friends at colleges across the country (and world) open new opportunities to connect with those of a similar temperament and worldview.
Still, it is essential when we discuss why we exist that we point first to the necessity of having a team of friends and family one can trust. To achieve that, we cannot simply hope for institutionalized processes and education to shape the futures of our young men and women. Each and every fraternity and sorority was formed by one group of students at one school. That is still our most fundamental and basic unit of measurement.
It’s not required that every student or alumnus be a part of a national organization’s structure; that is not the source of our pride. It is not required that members agree with strategic initiatives, press releases, appointments of leadership or policies. All fraternities and sororities take the form of a federation, we are many parts working together, not one part directing many.
We will continue to struggle for purpose and relevance so long as we direct the attention of our members toward specific goals, opponents, vices or talking points. We should trust, as our founders did, that strong networks of friends who assist one another in making the most of themselves and their contributions to the world will more greatly benefit each individual member than a lecture or college degree on its own.
Fraternal pride is essential. Fraternal partisanship can be destructive. Pride can lead to the rise of partisanship, sure, but to hijack a James Madison quote:
When you reflect on your fraternity, sorority, or the world of Greek Life, consider what you valued about your experience as a student. Why did you join? Why did you stay? For most of us, the answers to those questions are, “the people.”
Remember who you promised yourself to. Only you can decide what fraternity means to you. Not some website shaming those without the same delusional sense of entitled pride (total frat something) or some group of professionals shaming you for not joining the fraternity/sorority convent (association of something advisors).
Fraternity is that group of friends you created a club and secret handshake with in middle school. It is the group of family and friends you sat with after a religious service to share coffee and affection. It is the group of men or women in your wedding party. It is not a machine designed to turn out flawless men and women.