Growing up firmly entrenched in upper-middle-class suburbia, I had a fairly tame adolescence. Between vain attempts at chatting up the school hotties via AOL instant messenger, the strange and hairy bodily changes wreaking havoc on my self-image, and an increasingly awkward amount of staring being thrown at Cora’s rapidly developing bosom, I didn’t have a lot of inclination or time to be a rebellious misfit breaking the rules for the simple youthfulness of it all. I pretty much went by the books and made sure that any risks taken were calculated, so as to not land me in any trouble too severe.
The one thing that did manifest itself during this time, however, was a shift in my attitude towards all things serious. Like many kids at that young age, I suddenly found that the ‘cool’ thing to do was to make a mockery of what should be solemn, to joke about serious things, and to yawn off anything that wasn’t deemed exciting or flashy enough. I developed an extremely effective eye roll. I found myself joking about things that should have been left alone and trying to test the line at seemingly every turn. Thankfully, as I gained more experience and maturity, I realized the importance of tradition and history and that crass humor has its place but is not the only option for every situation.
When joining a fraternity, the history, ritual, and traditions of the chapter are often overshadowed by the more exciting aspects: the parties, the women, the brotherhood. And that is completely fine. If a rushee came to an event solely to talk about how many chants occur during a pledge ceremony, that person probably wouldn’t be high on the list for a bid. I am a strong advocate of the TFTC attitude, and all of the no-fucks-given benefits that it entails. Keeping that in mind, however, it is still important to remember and recognize the validity of the ritual in our organizations, and that sincerity should have a place in our brotherhood.
For many of our fraternities in the Greek community, there exist rituals and traditions that are upwards of 150 years old. Many of the rites performed by my collegiate chapter predate the Civil War. What other organizations on any given campus can claim such a heritage? The privilege of being able to participate in these legacies is truly a unique opportunity afforded to those chosen to partake in it.
It can be difficult to impress upon new members how gratifying these experiences can potentially be if approached with the respect that they deserve. The recent act of the Quinnipiac University Sig Ep brothers assisting a member to fulfill a rite of passage is an excellent example of what these traditions can be about, and the significance behind them. In addition to cementing a sense of brotherhood, they connect you with both the past and the ideals of your chapter.
As difficult as this can be to impress upon new members, it is borderline impossible to convey to those never affiliated. There is simply no adequate substitute for experiencing it yourself. Many outside of our community view those of us within as immature and uncouth degenerates ready to desecrate all that is sanctified. A healthy sense of brotherhood, tradition, and ritual provides opportunity to prove otherwise.
In addition, a frequently established tenet of many lettered organizations is cultivating a sense of patriotism and love of country. It can be argued that respecting the history of your organization and respecting the history of your country act as a corollary to each other. It comes as no surprise that so many Greeks are often the most enthusiastically patriotic of any other group, since learning to honor the ideals of your chapter are so easily translatable into honoring the ideals of your nation. When you expose yourself to the traditions of your chapter, you also begin to appreciate the country that afforded you the opportunity to do so.
Of course, sometimes things happen that are out of your control. No matter how seriously you may wish to approach something, it is important to also find humor in situations that warrant it. Before preparing an initiation ceremony during my third year, my buddies and I decided that it would be a good idea to load up on some burritos from the questionable Mexican place down the road. After filling up on black beans and queso dip, we headed to the ceremony to take our respective roles. About halfway in, our collective bowels decided to reject our culinary offerings in the form of some seriously noxious flatulence. Being the sloth that he is, my buddy decided to let one fly right during what was supposed to be a time of silent reflection. With all heads bowed, the sound ripped through the air and echoed off the walls, ricocheting like an errantly-tossed boomerang . Since we all still found farts hilarious, the ceremony was completely interrupted. After clearing the room and opening every available window to rid the stench, we laughed, enjoyed the break, and then reformed to complete the ceremony. We laughed when we should have laughed, and were serious when we should have been serious. At times like those, its important to have a healthy dose of perspective and poise.
If you take some time to respect the ritual, and to remember your traditions and histories, you can excel at an aspect of your collegiate experience that very few get to be a part of. It can be rewarding and should be something looked forward to. Then you can go back to your shots of whiskey and one-night-stands with a sense of pride and belonging..