Whether you believe in creationism, evolution or some combination of the two, there is one fact that most humans agree upon:
Our bodies have multiple parts and most of them have some sort of useful function.
We use our lungs to breath, our hearts to circulate, our muscles to move and our bones to be something other than a sack of skin and organs. Our stomachs break down food and our fingers fiddle with tools from wrenches to violins. Perhaps most important of all is our brain, a blob of nerve cells in our heads that turns vibrations into light and sound.
Fraternities are organizations of dark and light. We get in a lot of trouble for stupid things that our members do such as singing and recording racist chants on a bus or inviting a man to join our brotherhood, then beating him up in the basement. We also do many good things, like service and leadership and. . . stuff.
It can be said, and has been many times on this website, that fraternities and sororities were built to be organizations of philosophy, little more than literary social clubs that met and talked regularly. Much like the founders of our country, the founders of our organizations were purists. Students of an era when all of college was liberal arts and when every student studied philosophy, Latin, and Greek built our organizations out of a desire to engage with those who complimented their own beliefs. Fraternities were created to have a way to get away from strict social cultures and rules that were a part of 19th & 20th Century college life (before students had “farm-to-table” cafeterias in their list of requirements).
-Robert Anton Wilson
Of course, the original intent of a creation is usually never supported by those who come later into its existence and believe themselves of a more advanced human mind. A failure of our founders was to not to protect what the purposes of our organizations were, not to specify types of actions that should and should not be performed.
They were too brain-heavy, too philosophical, and we had trouble deciphering it just a few decades later. Two World Wars imprinted the idea that bonds are formed through suffering, and so our new member process became trench warfare and our social exhibitions turned into escapes from our suffering.
Some would say that we were lucky for our present leaders to pull us out of the Dark Ages between World War 2 and the 90’s. We needed to improve our image and the easiest way to do that was to do things that “better people” do, like service, philanthropy, focus on academics and, my personal favorite, “leadership.” In a 180-degree maneuver, we attempted to eliminate the hazing, alcohol abuse and stupidity that had plagued our organizations for decades with new things that fit a more modern, accepting and civil world. I might argue that we replaced a set of behaviors that our founders would not condone with another set that might perplex and bore them.
– Oscar Wilde
Have you ever encountered a genuine meat-head? I certainly have! There are a few sad times that I’ve been astounded at a person’s ability to speak English, even if the only words to leave his or her lips were, “PROTEIN.”
As much as we’d like to pretend that our organizations are currently fulfilling some higher purpose of social justice, community enrichment and a commitment to excellence, we’ve really just built a bunch of meat-heads, needlessly doing busy work in hopes that it will distract from who we are: a bunch of people who can’t settle for doing something without praise. Before we start blaming millennials, we should remember that it is not they who created the “Fraternal Values Movement,” or the standards we hold them to.
The reality of the fraternity and sorority world is that we do lots of things with no coherent strategy. We want to be “better,” and so we do nice things that other nice humans do. But humans who changed the world didn’t do so by being “nice” people. They did it by taking risks and opportunities when they presented themselves; they did so by opportunistically using their relationships and connections to like-minded people to advance a cause. A man can do 7,000 service hours and only have a few clean roads to show for it.
The unfortunate part of our predicament is that an answer to our all brawn-no brains problem sits directly in front of our faces, and the window of opportunity is closing faster than you can say, “terrible reporting by The Rolling Stone!”
We have one product, membership. It’s the only thing that we sell. Uniquely, our membership requires students to pay our organizations to then require them to do work on our behalf and attend programs to teach them how to better do that work or to teach them what binge drinking is. It’s the equivalent of paying your boss to work for him or her while he or she sits behind a desk and complains how terribly you do your work. Despite the farce that is “fraternity membership” as it stands today, we still have millions of pledged members across the world, so now may be time to pay them some attention for everyone’s benefit.
Those same Fortune 500 leaders and congressmen and entrepreneurs that we tout to every potential member via misguided statistics are how we will change the world, and all it requires is a Youtube video and, perhaps, a little focus on what can help a person achieve greatness after college rather than during college. We spend so much time telling students to do service, shaming them to not drink and trying to figure out what makes a chapter great that we ignore that the only thing we need to do to make these students happy is connect them with other members. We need them to talk, to share ideas, to value their brains and friendships and worry less about the busy work.
– Peter Thiel
The ultimate fraternity website can be found here.
Yes, there you see a membership of excellent people sharing their excellence with the world. They are undeniably popular and the platform itself has launched careers for many an ambitious man or woman. We have many ambitious men and women, they do awesome things, but the most we offer is a full page in our magazines. . . which go only to our members. The world will not think differently of us for raising $100,000 the day after we kill six more teenagers; the world may start to think differently of us when it is realized that each of our organizations are churning out the best minds of our day.
We should take a page out of our founder’s books and slow our role. The world does not care how much service we do, how strong our GPAs are or how much we give to charity. Even if the Koch Brothers give oodles of cash to support criminal justice reform, as they intend to, they’ll still be the Koch Brothers and still be mistrusted by those who dislike them. Our strategic plans are designed to build “nice” people, people who give back to society, but they don’t include any thoughts on how giving back to society can go beyond manual labor. They don’t pave the way for platforms for our members to share and publicize ideas, to acquire funding for their startup or to replace broken industries with fraternal innovations.
– Bruce Lee
The problem is, what we are giving back is too small, too insignificant, too ordinary and does not justify the cost of membership or existence of our organizations. We need to stop doing things for the sake of doing them and put some thought into how we want to change the world. By focusing a bit on how fraternities and sororities can be the brains Americans crave, rather than public relations stunts we call “service” and “leadership,” we may actually gain their favor.
You can learn all of the best practices of leadership, and yet you’re still at square one if your idea isn’t given a receptive audience.
Ready, Set, Tweet!
We should be recognized for churning out the best minds of our day (Tweet This)
Doing things that nice people do doesn’t make us better (Tweet This)
We need to put some thought into how we want to change the world (Tweet This)