Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Spider-Man on Being Thankful

The phrase, "With great power comes great responsibility" is most often attributed to Peter Parker's (more commonly known as Spider-Man) Uncle Ben. 

As a series of holidays approach us (Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, the winter solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year, and others) it's that time of year when most take a moment to reflect and find time to be grateful for what we have.

As fraternity and sorority members, we have a lot. Namely, enormous amounts of privilege. In fact, we are probably the most privileged people in the United States. We are [literally] the most affluent and educated people around. For this alone, we should be grateful. If you celebrate Thanksgiving, we hope you'll give thanks for this.

However, with this overwhelming privilege comes great responsibility. Privilege equates to power - and we should use it wisely and for doing good. As people, and more specifically as members of a fraternity or sorority, we're committed to making the world a better place. Social justice theory indicates those with privilege ought to acknowledge it and understand how it has benefitted them... and, furthermore,  take action to end the oppression of others. We agree.

Approximately 36% of American adults have earned a bachelor's degree. What do you suppose is the percentage of members of a fraternal organizations who have earned a bachelors degree? Basically it's 100%. This one is a bit of a softball since membership coincides with college enrollment and usually you have to graduate to become an alumna/us. Sure there are a few exceptions, but you get the idea.

What about further education? Studies vary, but most report approximately 7 or 8% of Americans have earned a master's degree and around 3% have earned a terminal degree (Ph.D., JD, MD, etc.). We don't  know the percentage of those graduates who are members of a fraternal organization, but we know it's a safe bet that it's impressive.

How are you using your education to help others and make the world a better place?

What about affluence? Which came first: the affluence or the affiliation? Although we think it's more likely the former, it can surely work both ways. We know that many members of fraternities and sororities have a foundation of privilege that others don't have. But, we also know we have networks and support structures that aide us in success after college graduation and throughout life. Maybe this means a sweeter first job (or simply a job in today's economy), a bigger raise, or a an invite to play golf with the boss (who's a sister in the bond). Sure, not all enter high-paying professions, but affluence doesn't only refer to financial wealth. It also includes social capital and, simply, access to resources.

How are you using your affluence and access to resources to help others and make the world a better place?

Maybe it's a bit heavy. Yes, privilege can sometimes feel like a gift and other times like a great burden. Ending homelessness or hunger is a giant feat to consider; it's scary to even think about such an undertaking, perhaps. But, when we consider the millions - yes millions - of affluent and educated fraternity men and sorority women in the world, it's actually reasonable. Think of a cause that's important to you. Think big.

Uncle Ben knew what he was talking about when he warned Peter about taking his new spider-like skills seriously. And, as a result, Spider-Man famously used his powers for good rather than evil.  

Are you?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Price of Bystander Behavior: What We Can Learn from Penn State

No matter how you feel about the current allegations of perjury and misconduct by leadership in Happy Valley, one thing is clear:

You cannot afford to be a bystander, ever.  Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.

We don't care if you're a freshman member of a fraternal organization or one of the winningest coaches of all time.  By joining a fraternal organization, you've made an unspoken pact to uphold its values 24/7.  And, there is a hefty price tag attached when you choose not to. 

Look at wide receiver coach Mike McQueary. Then a graduate assistant, he testified under oath that he saw an illegal and immoral act take place in the showers of the football building, yet the details of whether or not he did anything to stop it are unclear.  McQueary had an opportunity to put his #valuesinaction, and now, because his own words indicate he did nothing beyond telling his father and his professional superior, the quality of his character and validity of his career are called to question.

Based on what we know so far, even if Coach Joe Paterno may have done the right thing legally - it appears he didn't do the right thing morally.  When you choose to do act in a tough situation, you have to be sure you've done more than just enough, you must ensure you've done all you can with concern to both legal and values-based consequences.

By the way, Paterno is a member of a fraternity - so he is doubly obligated to act and follow-up, through both his fraternal oath and professional commitment.

Every time you avoid or lie about a situation in which your values have been compromised, plan on getting more than you bargained for.  If you're not particularly savvy with calculations, let us help you do the math.

Avoid the Situation
$ Guilt
$ Credibility
$ Self Respect
$ Integrity
$ Lies to cover your inaction (See below)
Lie about the Situation
$ Multiply the above by four
$ Respect/trust of others
$ Value of your hard work and education to get where you are
$ Ability to continue in your chosen profession or path
$ Fear of being found out
Do the minimum required (legally or morally)
$ Others question your values commitment and ethics
$ Being remembered by this choice, rather than your accomplishments
$ Trust from those who formerly believed in you

If you're not acting to stop behavior that doesn't align with your values, or you are currently avoiding or covering something up because you're scared, ask yourself:

Is it worth it?