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The Oracle

Toward the Next 100 Years  

Slogans! They often tend to be empty trite sayings, sometimes even rhyming, that groups use as a mantra to throw them into some existential euphoria. To some they are the equivalent of an endorphin high that gives them a sense of warmth and well being, transforming them into a Beaver Cleaver in contrast to their otherwise dysfunctional world. To some they become smoke screens for lack of productivity or inactivity rather than rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands bloody doing jobs they are supposed to do.

When did I become disenchanted with slogans, you ask? Well, I think it was about two decades ago when working with a chapter who, for recruitment purposes, printed up flyers and tee-shirts about how great Sigma Phi Epsilon was in terms of such things as number of initiates, chapter size, grade point average, and noteworthy accomplishments. There was nothing wrong with that per se, but this chapter had the lowest GPA on campus, the fewest men, and did not excel at anything other than non-productivity. They were hiding behind the reputation of the Fraternity and not doing their job of even trying to live up to the standards we set as an organization. Needless to say, the rushees were much smarter than the members of this chapter. As a consequence, this chapter, high on the mantra of Sigma Phi Epsilon's greatness, withered and died, still in denial.

I think it was at the Conclave in 1989 that we first saw the Balanced Man Logo, introducing us to the concept of "Spirit Healthy-Body Healthy." I immediately felt that this was the right direction for us to take. It was an attainable concept and consistent with our Cardinal Principles. It was not a comparison-shopping slogan. It did not belittle another product in an attempt to make us look better. It represented what we should strive for as an organization. It was an ideal that is timeless and adaptable to any generation. It was just plain common sense.

I unfortunately was not able to attend the Conclave in Chicago. I am sorry because I would have like to have heard Grand President Tragos' speech in person. I have listened to it from the web page and I have read the transcript - and continue to re-read it. I think everyone should revisit it periodically because it is simply too much to assimilate in one sitting. I continue to think about many of the things he mentioned and how important they are to us with regard to not only our survival in but also dominance of Fraternity life now and well into this new millennium. Now I will not say I agree with everything he said, but the majority of it was right on target and focused on the things that many actively involved alumni have been saying we seriously need to address as an organization.

A few of Brother Tragos' comments are particularly important to me because they are, in my opinion, integral to our future. First and foremost is the concept of eliminating the "Frat Boy Image." While we often smirk and blow off this epithet, it keeps surfacing and by today's standards represents a rude, irresponsible, binge drinking, sloth. It used to carry the image of the clean-cut (freshly bathed and groomed), preppie, college boy - dressed in a white button-down polo shirt, khaki pants (properly tailored and pressed), wearing Bass Weejuns (often with no socks), and forever wearing his bejeweled fraternity badge. Like the movie, Animal House, the term "frat boy" has become the bane of our existence and is now the great icon of irresponsibility, lack of accountability, and recklessness. The hallmark of today's "frat boy" is the quintessential dumb attack. This may range from the simple vulgar behavior of being loud and crass in public to an extreme of participating in some act of irresponsibility and lack of respect for life that results in a needless death of some other young man who was simply seeking friendship and wanting to "fit in."

We have all heard the old cliché, "the only thing constant is change." This is universal. So is resistance to change. As we grow physically, intellectually, and spiritually we develop different needs and thus we have to adapt. . That is just the way life is. We are not individuals in a sterile bubble. We are impacted by too many external factors. While we may not like or agree with these external changes, in order to survive we must adapt or at the least cope. We must continually learn to function within new boundaries - most of which we have no ability to set or affect. Such adaptation is important to our survival. Thus it is important to be cognizant of those principles that are timeless and utilize them to make us not only survivors but victorious gladiators. What are more timeless than our Cardinal Principles of Virtue, Diligence, and Brotherly Love?

Change is good, sometimes even when we think it is not. We all need challenges. By attacking challenges head on we learn, we become more alert, we become more attuned to those things in our environment. Mastering the challenge of change keeps us on the cutting edge, giving us a feeling of accomplishment and pride. I once saw a slogan on a tee shirt that said, "If you are not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space." While certainly the concept of "living on the edge" can have negative connotations, the positive interpretation of the concept is certainly applicable.

Another tee shirt slogan says, "Life is a journey, not a destination." Our Ritual teaches us this same philosophy. It tells us to continually expect change and to deal with it. M. Scott Peck wrote in his book, The Road Less Traveled, that one of the greatest things we humans do is spend too much time whining about the things over which we have no control and that we use them as an excuse not to be productive individuals. In other words, life is difficult. Accept it, get over it, and get on with living. And so Brother Tragos was right on target in that we need to follow the teachings of our Ritual for the betterment of ourselves and Sigma Phi Epsilon. In doing that, we can easily and positively adapt to our ever-changing environment. We need to be better than the mediocre image of today's "Frat Boy." We need to become balanced men in which the spirit and body are healthy. We are building balanced leaders for tomorrow's communities. To be successful at this we need to embrace change and make it work for us rather than complain about it and let the world pass us by.

Beyond Phi Beta Kappa. Personally I don't particularly care for the context; but I am in full agreement with the concept. I think it is cheap to compare yourself to someone else. We do this all the time in looking at ourselves in light of our competition. However, if you are the "best" chapter comparatively in a really mediocre Greek system, you are simply saying that you are just slightly better than mediocre. Stand on your credentials and accomplishments. They will speak for themselves. We are better known for what we do more so than by what we say. Phi Beta Kappa and several other select honorary societies (some of which also have Greek names) represent the highest level of academic and/or intellectual achievement. While I will not develop the historical issues concerning the conversion of Phi Beta Kappa into an academic honorary, suffice it to say that Phi Beta Kappa was the cornerstone of what we now know as modern fraternalism. Phi Beta Kappa made the decision to forsake all other aspects of a social fraternity and to totally represent academic excellence. It sets high standards for individual membership as well as extremely high standards for institutions that are desirous of a chapter being established on their campuses. 

We are, and I hope always will be, a diverse, multi-faceted organization. We should strive for academic excellence - as individuals and collectively as chapters. Is not Diligence one of our timeless principles? Is there not some great significance to the diploma? In this competitive and highly technical society that we have today it is imperative that one strive for academic excellence just to be able to compete when entering the job market or in applying for advanced education.

Is academic achievement enough? I think not. Most employers and professional school admission committees not only look at academic achievement but also a myriad of other aspects that make a person "well rounded." This is a very real reason to go "beyond" the single concept of academic achievement. Thus, while I do not particularly like the superficial concept of the slogan, I do see that the intent is to focus us as individuals and chapters to be solid achievers in all things we undertake. The significant issue is not to use slogan-ology as a smoke screen but rather to use it as benchmark for evaluating performance.

I am still a proponent of self-evaluation, which was one of our "nine expectations for quality chapter operations." This involves annual evaluation of a chapter and then setting goals higher for the next performance period. By doing this there is continual improvement. A plateau is never reached. Ever onward – Excelsior! It is the same type of process business and industry use with strategic planning. It also provides an opportunity for a chapter to focus cohesively on those issues intrinsic to its own circumstances and to move forward with unity. Utilizing periodic self-evaluation will certainly take you and your chapter "Beyond Phi Beta Kappa."

A former CEO of Coca-Cola once noted that his company significantly increased their market share when they stopped the strategy of focusing on beating Pepsi and started focusing on making Coca-Cola available within an arms-length distance of every consumer in the world. Sigma Phi Epsilon must realign its focus onto its own values and philosophy and not the marketing mantra of the day. When we stray from our own values and put too much energy into checking out the competition we get into trouble. Just think of a runner in a race. He must continually focus on the finish line and put all his energy into reaching that goal. If he turns his attention to where the other runners are and not on where he is going the results are often disappointing.

Fear is the thief of dreams. We have become a community of nay-sayers. We can always think of more reasons not to do rather than to do something. Rather than follow through, we often run in the opposite direction of our dreams. Why? Actions require energy. Also, it is easier to retreat than to face the possibility of failure. How many times did Thomas Edison fail with the light bulb before he had success? The only person that never fails is the person who never tries. Better to fail and learn an important lesson than to do nothing and never enjoy the exhilaration of eventual success. We must face our fears, roll up our sleeves, and get our hands dirty with the work of fraternity. When we become more concerned with our own health and well-being and that of our Brothers and fellow humans we will truly realize the meaning of Brotherly Love. The old saying "you get what you pay for" is true here. The more of an investment you make in fraternity, the greater your dividends. I can personally assure you that you cannot fathom the many ways your investment in Sigma Phi Epsilon and fraternalism will come back to you with high interest.

Are you what you know? This is another issue that is of great concern to me. Sigma Phi Epsilon has the best and brightest, at least with potential. One can know all manner of things but if this knowledge is not put to use then it is just wasted. We have all heard the advertisement, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Isn’t this the same thing (at least in a broad sense)? A good example from a health care standpoint would be someone that has high blood pressure. He knows that if he takes his daily medication, exercises regularly, keeps his weight down and has proper nutrition that he can keep his blood pressure under control. However if he chooses to ignore this and eats a high fat diet, doesn’t exercise, becomes the Pillsbury dough boy and sporadically takes his medication he will most likely suffer the debilitating consequences. Likewise we have many young leaders in our chapters that have the knowledge to lead their chapters to excellence but they do not expend their energy and exploit their knowledge to do so. It is a terrible thing to see individuals and chapters with such potential choose the well-traveled road to conformity and watch them wallow in the cesspool of mediocrity. And I have seen the corollary. Individuals and chapters who exploit mediocre potential have become for us the brightest of stars. I have seen it happen too many times in professional school. The student who got in as an alternate had the motivation and focus to do the best he/she could and eventually graduate number one in the class while the brightest student, who did not exploit his potential, was last. I really feel that it is more accurate to say, “We are what we do!” We all must be ever diligent and use the gifts we have to their fullest.

Make the chapter house a chapter home. How I would like to see this occur overnight! To be very honest, I am tired of seeing the yards of chapter houses strewn with last week's trash. I am tired of the yards of our fraternity houses being overgrown from lack of maintenance. I am very tired of going into chapter houses and seeing huge garbage cans everywhere overflowing with trash. I am tired of seeing empty pizza boxes and drink cans and cups strewn through the common areas. I am tired of the filth. I am tired of opening refrigerators in chapter houses and seeing more alcohol containers than food containers. I am tired of seeing recycling bins with more beer cans than soft drink cans. I am tired of the smell of stale beer and alcohol. I am tired of seeing bicycles parked in the dining room. I am tired of seeing smelly athletic clothes and, yes, even dirty underwear strewn up and down the halls of the living sections. There is not a member among us whose parents permitted such slovenly habits in their homes. Why do we see it in our chapter houses? Why should it be tolerated? A fraternity home should be a place where a member could bring his parents and friends and not be ashamed of what they might see. I think we need to make a serious investment in returning to this concept of fraternalism.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote a poem called, "I am Waiting." In it he iterated numerous things he was waiting for. Well … I am waiting for the winds of change to grab our attention and focus us collectively in a unified direction. I am waiting for chapters to be more concerned with moving forward doing what is right and true rather than expending all their energies looking for loopholes in the rules and regulations. I am waiting for chapters to do the right thing rather than expending all their energy trying to be "like the other fraternities on their campus." I am waiting for slogans to become the hallmark of action rather than a smoke screen for sloth. I am waiting for the fraternity house to become a home away from home rather than an overflowing dumpster. I am waiting for us to again be unified under a single concept of member development rather than perpetually bickering over which one is better. I am waiting for all chapters to strive and work toward academic excellence in tandem with the total concept of the "balanced man." I am waiting for us to not only verbalize our cardinal principles but also internalize them and make them the foundation on which we base everything we do as individuals and collectively as chapters. I am waiting for our members to respect their bodies rather than abusing them through risky behavior. I am waiting for an end to senseless activities that could potentially result in physical or mental harm to those we have selected to be our new members. I am waiting for our members to see all aspects of true fraternalism as “fun” rather than drudgery.

The direction we should take, the one we must take, is the one less traveled. There will be pitfalls and setbacks along the way. I know that we are on a perpetual journey and that every time we think we have reached our destination there will always be a few more miles to go. Let us be like the explorers of old looking for the New World and facing the possibility of sailing off the edge of the earth. Let us be like the pioneers as they moved to the West. Let us get on with the doing. I would rather be on the journey rather than just sitting still. Just think what glorious sights you can see and great life lessons you can learn.

Fraternalism is at a crossroads. I see the same vision Carter Ashton Jenkins saw: the great black cloud over the college universal. We are the captains of our own ships. We are the masters of our own fate. William Faulker said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

“I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tide less in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.

 Even with that great dark cloud looming over the college universal and the clanging of the doom bell signaling the loss of Greek system after Greek system, fraternalism still has worth. I decline to accept the end of fraternalism because I know that Sigma Phi Epsilon has a soul that is supported by our Cardinal Principles. We will endure. We are immortal and we will not only survive but also prevail because we have a spirit capable of exemplifying Virtue, Diligence, and Brotherly Love.

As Robert Frost penned in his poem, "The Road Not Taken,"

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

It will not be an easy journey. We will encounter many difficulties. Together, arm in arm, we can overcome adversity and share the weight of our collective burdens. We can once again bring honor to the concept of true fraternalism. We can take that road less traveled and in doing so better ourselves, better our Brothers, and bring everlasting glory to Sigma Phi Epsilon. So, who will come and go with me, I am bound for the Promised Land. 

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Last Updated: 2008-03-14 18:23
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