A passenger on the bus this morning finished a phone call as he sat down beside me.
“Nope. All I got in my fraternity was hung over.” he said.
I remembered a hangover from my fraternity days, but that wasn’t all I got. I also got an excellent piece of advice.
I didn’t want to join a fraternity. The last thing I needed was to squeeze frat parties into a busy class schedule. However, a friend whose reverse idea was to squeeze classes into a busy party schedule somehow convinced me.
The next thing I knew, I was wearing a toga.
Prior to that were weeks of pledging. I’ve never enjoyed being told what to do, when, how often, and where – all while being criticized – and requests from the brothers were constant. Check in at the frat house, go on scavenger hunts, paint a room, make posters for a party, and so on. Daily requests were impromptu and numerous but my friend and I, along with five others, took them seriously. We had to, of course, in order to be accepted into the fraternity.
Oh, I made friends and had some great times as a pledge. It wasn’t all bad. The community projects and neighborhood clean-ups were no problem. Being blind-folded and told to eat the unidentified, cold, slimy contents of a bowl while wearing only my underwear, well, that wasn’t the finest evening. It was being constantly “on call”, though, that was the real nerve racker. We pledges never knew when to expect a note demanding we immediately report to the frat house. I began to have second thoughts about pledging.
Weeks wore on and I wore out. Keeping up with classes was never an issue, but I tired of dishwashing, running errands, wearing silly hats around campus, and being at the beck and call of a house full of guys who delighted in the drama they commanded. The other pledges were at times frantic to complete their latest assignments. The stress wasn’t worth it and I walked to the fraternity house one afternoon to tell them so. No more pledging for me.
Based on what I knew of him, I assumed the fraternity president would listen, probably laugh, and then tell me to go clean the basement. I was wrong.
He did listen. In fact, with several brothers in the house that afternoon, he took me onto the porch to talk privately. This guy, who for weeks I’d seen only in the role of Commander-in-Nonsense, partier and beer lover, was suddenly very serious as he asked me what was wrong.
I told him I had nothing against him or the brothers and it had been quite the experience, but weeks of daily nonsense requests didn’t seem worth it. I didn’t enjoy being bossed around, putting out “emergency” fires, and I had my classes to think about. I told him I quit pledging.
What he said next has stuck with me for over thirty years.
He listened to my whining then looked at me and said, “If you’re involved in something and you don’t like how it’s going, don’t leave it. Stay and change it.”
Wow, I thought. Suddenly my irritation over being “bossed around” seemed shallow and silly. What excellent words to give someone on the verge of quitting anything. I said ok then, I would maintain for a while and see how it went. As luck would have it, the next day we pledges learned that on the upcoming Saturday night there would be a secret ceremony and we would learn who had been accepted.
I was proud to hear my name called first that night.
Excellent advice had kept me on track: “If you’re involved in something and you don’t like how it’s going, don’t leave it. Stay and change it.”
No longer a pledge now, requests from the other brothers halted. I enjoyed my time in the fraternity, kept up with my school work, and even learned what it was I’d eaten from the bowl that night while wearing only underwear and a blindfold. I also kept in mind our fraternity president’s advice. I had stayed, now what could I change?
When the next batch of pledges signed on, the brothers’ shenanigans began again. I remembered all of the nonsense I’d gone through, how insane some of it seemed, and how I would have quit except for the wise words of advice I got on the porch that afternoon.
When the pledges were told to report to the house after class I proposed that they be given time for homework first. When the pledges were told to paint rooms in the fraternity house I proposed that we help to make it go faster. When the pledges were asked to participate in community clean-ups I proposed that those of us with cars give them a ride.
And when the pledges were told to wear only their underwear, be blindfolded, and eat the cold, slimy contents of a bowl placed before them, well, I was happy to hand them the bowl.
If they didn’t like it, they could stay and change it.
Stuart M. Perkins