A man’s right to initiation requires something from him…
There are few things more woven into the fraternity culture than pledgeship and the tradition of earning your way to become a brother. The need for initiation is a primal part of the male psyche and pledging, in its correct form, offers this. In a culture that seems to have lost the value of that process, the fraternity is one of the last places other than the military that recognizes the need for a rite of passage and an experience that includes obstacles to overcome. Those of us who have joined the ranks by taking part in this sacred practice would probably agree those were some of the best and worst times of our life. We will never forget them.
Now, most of you have been through months of rush to land yourself the pledge class. Those golden sons who have been wined and dined and probably have an elevated sense of themselves are about to be brought down by the humbling reality of pledgeship. It can be a big shock to most guys. But I thought, to give it some perspective, I would share a little advice with all those new pledges. Or maybe for you to pass on.
1. There is no such thing as a free lunch
Many of you enjoyed parties and ate meals that seemed free. I assure you, nothing is free. People took a lot of time to get know you, invited you to their home, and invested their time and money. Now that you signed things are going to change. You might ask, “How could the guy who recruited me all of a sudden change his tone this drastically?” It is a little confusing, but you need to understand and find your place in this pecking order. Before we get to the mountaintop we usually need to experience the valley. So now, it’s your chance to earn your place and prove they made a good choice and payback those ‘free lunches.’
2. You are about to learn that life can be unfair.
You will learn this more and more as an adult, but take these coming days as training. One of the most important parts about life is to learn that things aren’t always in your control. You might be asked to do favors that seem odd and way out of your way. Some of you might get singled out. A few brothers have already had their eyes on your exuberance, and probably plan on doing all they can to give you a wake up call. Trust me, this is a good learning experience. Whether deserved or undeserved, life is like that. Humility is one of life’s greatest teachers, but it’s a hard one to take, so try and roll with the punches.
3. Respect the traditions
We live in an era where nothing is sacred. We don’t respect rules anymore. Authority is looked down upon. But you are part of a tradition that has been taking place for hundreds of years. The same rituals that could have been your great-great grandfather’s have existed for generations. While some feel foolish, they all have their reasons for existence. Some for your good, others so you will come to appreciate your brothers. You might find some unusual, but you need to respect them without question. Learn about the history and the past. You will have that with you for the rest of your life.
4. Don’t call your mother
Many of you have been praised and coddled by your mom. We live in a generation of what they called helicopter moms (overmothering and underfathering is rampant). This is the time in your life to start finding your way without her. Pledgeship is not the time to lean on her. Don’t tell her every detail. Of course she is worried. She has memories of putting you on the school bus, but start learning how to be your own man and call her every once in awhile to let her know you are okay and that you could always use another bow tie. If something happens or you’re upset, call your dad and talk it through. Leave your mom out of this pledge part. This is a guy thing.
5. Earn your way
Some of you will try and just blend in. To follow in the middle of the pack of sheep and not rock the boat to get noticed. While staying under the radar, I would encourage you to lead and be an example to your pledge class. While you might become more of a target to some actives, it’s worth it. Take one for your class. I regret not doing this more. I think this is where great character is built.
6. Clean with a smile
Think about it. Would you work 10 years of your life to get taken care of the other 70? It’s a great system that actually works with no default. You put in a semester and then you can be treated like royalty the rest of your days.
And lastly, to the brothers. I am not here to tell you how to treat the pledges, you make those decisions based on your convictions, but I do want to point out that this is a great opportunity. We are the last remaining bit of a class of American men who won wars, conquered the west and built American industry into a globe spanning force. The kind of men who did that learned from other men the skills needed to succeed. I believe that fraternities still teach those skills. For a pledge, part of the reason to even join a Fraternity is to gain instruction, for brothers this is an opportunity to teach, to help build something new, moreover, this is opportunity to practice leadership. There is an old saying that goes, “Leave something better than when you found it.” I think that maxim is needed now more than ever. We are a nation that lacks leadership. If this country is ever to regain it’s social stability, a new generation of dynamic thinkers and leaders is desperately needed. You are that generation. Part of your responsibility is to build men of character to accomplish that work.
For that to happen, a pledge must first be deconstructed. Pledging is a lot like boot camp. It wears down the flaws of the individual in order to construct a strong and unitary group. But you have to remember to build them back into great men. Most guys forget that. It’s useless to tear them down if you don’t build them back up. Most of us never got that part of pledgeship, and so it’s up to you to offer something you might not have received yourself. That is the hardest part.
To all of you, may pledgeship continue in the form it needs to build great men. Yes, there is suffering required. A bit of sacrifice. It takes humility. But also remember this is your chance to form young men and give them guidance. There is nothing like a good instructive and evaluative experience of trial and struggle. Make sure you have the right guys there to interpret what is happening for them. They need it.
By guest columnist Xan Hood, CEO/Founder Buffalo & Company