Thursday, January 3, 2013

In defense of fraternal organizations

I'm going to spend this weekend with other fraternity brothers planning on how to enhance the experience of our undergraduate members for the spring semester/summer. This is one of three weekends that I'll be devoting to my collegiate fraternity over the next 5 week period. That is in addition to the time I will also spend with my other two non-college fraternal groups. This begs the obvious question, "why do you devote so much time to these endeavors?"
This question is understandable, and I've been asked it many times. I've even had it asked by other fraternity brothers. I've asked it of myself when I'm being pressed for time in the other aspects of my life. Particularly when fraternities have been held in such a negative light. I know the accusations: alcohol abuse, womanizing, elitism, hazing, that is just what is in the news. Personally, most people that question it, feel it is silly or a waste of time; or at least, time better spent doing something else. I am aware that there are groups that do community service, activism or leadership training without the social aspect that fraternities focus on. I'm not going to attempt a dissertation on the whole structure of fraternities and their place in society, I just want to focus on one aspect.
The camaraderie is the essential part of fraternal involvement. Without the social interaction and bonding that take place in that setting, the external actions would be meaningless. Now each fraternity that I belong to has it's own specific stated purpose. At the heart of all of them though is the same tenet. The improvement of the individual member through his fraternal interactions, and the improvement of our society through the individual's improvement. I think that fraternities have been misunderstood over the last three decades because we've stopped thinking of the relationship between the world and ourselves in this way. Self improvement is still big business and people are definitely concerned about improving the world around them. Fraternities tend to be old school in that they still connect these two achievements go hand in hand. Our culture has slowly moved towards a duality between our inner selves and or outer experiences. Our morality has become more about what we do than who we are. Even if we recognize the value of character development, we rarely equate it to the effect that it will have on enriching or benefiting the world around us. This was a popular notion at the turn of the century and was a central belief in ancient Greece. I believe these two are connected in the boom of fraternity foundings in the late 1800s, early 1900s and the reason so many of them have Greek letters as their names. A final thought, while I think personal growth is a lifelong commitment and goal, and that non-collegiate fraternities are important. I truly believe my commitment to sustaining my collegiate one is the most important because I think that is the age where we not only decide what we want to be for the test of our lives, but who we want to be. That decision, the one that shapes the type of person we will become, is the quintessential part of our education, even more so than or academic endeavors.