In a comment on the ‘Getting to know us’ thread, I mentioned that I am a ‘frat boy’ (preferrably ‘fraternity man’, but I’m not too sensitive in regards to terminology). While I understand that this carries a negative connatation, it’s important to realize that stereotypes are just a way of labeling somebody subjectively based on one or a few of their objective qualities.
I’ve decided to post my first diary here on some of the important lessons that I learned while going through the initiation process into my fraternity. I think it will be evident how these lessons are appropriate in the context of societal interaction and progressive politics, and perhaps even relevant to a few of the current discussions here on Booman.
First, let me explain a tad about my fraternity (you can skip this paragraph if you want to just get to the point). I didn’t go into college looking to join one, and held a pretty poor opinion of them. But, as college freshman are wont to do, I went to a few fraternity parties, and this group of guys really struck me as genuine. They weren’t out to buy friends or ‘get some tail’. They were very respectful of everyone who came through their door, male and female, and this intrigued me. They weren’t out to mold people into a pre-conceived image; rather, they were there to help people grow, and grow themselves in the process. As I got to know them, I decided it was a place I’d very much like to be a part of, and many of them, to this day, remain my best friends (and some strong progressive voices, to boot).
OK, moving on. This lesson is really three lessons, but is based on one ritual that we all were led through early on in our associate member term (aka ‘pledge term’). The name of the ritual is ‘Assist, Guide, Defend.’ The details of the ritual aren’t important (they never are). It’s the lesson itself.
‘Assist’ means, that you help your fraternity brother when he needs help, whether that means helping with homework, or just providing a steady ballast for when the stormy seas get too rough to navigate alone. I remember several years back when one of my brothers was going through a rough spot with his girlfriend, who lived across the state. He asked to borrow my car to go work things out with her in person, and I gave him the keys without hesitation. Two years later they wed, and they remain happily married to this day.
‘Guide’ is being able to share experiences in a constructive way with someone who may not have those experiences. Providing insight into someone’s problem that they may not have been able to see, for whatever reason, can bring them through some dark times. It’s important to provide an encouraging voice, whether you’re talking to someone who has just lost a family member, is dealing with a drinking problem, or has just lost their way and needs help finding their way back.
‘Defend’ means just that. We’re a group; we defend each other against people who want to do us harm. Not necessarily in the physical sense (in fact almost never in that sense), but rather those who would attack our ideals, hopes, and goals. There is a lot of this on a competitive college campus. It’s easy, when you’re not directly under attack, to sit idly by. ‘Defend’ teaches us that is wrong. You have to stand up, declare unity, and defend your brother, because an affront on him is an affront on you.
The most important lesson learned, and the one that makes the previous three all work smoothly, is that of ultimate respect. What is ultimate respect? It is mutual understanding. It is being able to agree to disagree. It is the realization that no one person, his thoughts, or his opinions, trump anyone else’s. And it allowed us to take people from different ethnic, economic, and religious backgrounds, and treat them as family. We’re all different; but that doesn’t mean we’re not equal.
I’ve intentionally left this in the ‘boys club’ context because that is how it is a part of my past. I hope you’ll agree that these lessons are universal when applied to society as a whole. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll agree that not ALL frat boys are womanizing alcoholics. Thanks for your time.