Stay and Change It

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

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108 Comments

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108 responses to “Stay and Change It

  1. 2good2bebad

    Great read and excellent writing! Thank you for the like on my new blog as well. I hope you continue to follow me as I tell of the changes I made because I didn’t like something ironically!

  2. A wonderful post with great advice that you’re passing along to others. Thank you. Happy Holidays.

  3. This is a story that will stick with me.

  4. Wonderful story. I like your writing style

  5. can’t think of any words that don’t sound bullshitty ….. wish i could just say i fucking loved your story and we’ll leave it at that …. the old KISS principle … now THAT’S bullshitty …. how’s this …. THANKS … it’s good to learn …. KS

  6. Good advice and great story, but reality is sometimes “ya gotta shake the dust of your sandals…..”

  7. Well, good for you! I’m more inclined to leave — and admire you all the more for being able to balance the sense of that, with a practical way of dealing positively with it.

  8. shanechall

    I never thought I’d sympathize with someone who went through a frat. Greek life is the furthest thing from my personality. But it’s nice to hear a deeper take on frats than what’s usually repeated. You’ve changed my perspective, sir.

  9. Love, love, love this! Thank you for sharing. And don’t you just love it when precisely the right words show up at precisely the right time…?! Me too! 🙂

  10. That certainly is a great story and must be fond memories for you. Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed it greatly. You definitely have a knack for writing. That having been said I must partially agree with tannachtonfarm above, who said that sometimes we should “shake the dust from our sandals,” (Which is a biblical quotation meaning if you’re unable to make changes then quit and move on elsewhere.) The reason I only “partially” agree with him/her is that he/she didn’t really emphasize the “if you’re unable to make changes” part…. I certainly agree we should always try first! (Ironic if Tannachton pronounces his name Tinactin – like the foot spray, huh? what with sandals and all…) Anyway, fun read….

  11. This is excellent advice. Relating it to frat stories made it fun, as well. I can’t imagine that was an easy time period, yet your story and motto applies very well in this case. cheers to you on your approachable and magnetic writing! Happy New Year ahead…
    and thank you very much for joining me on my blog and liking what you’ve read, as well!

  12. I love this story–and the way it resolved. I never would have believed it possible. Thanks for this glimmer of hope when it comes to changing frat culture! And kudos to your brothers who didn’t let you run out the back door whining.
    Elouise

  13. Loved this! When I was in ROTC at the first summer camp, I hated that first week. When the drill sergeants tell you to do something, you do it. My parents had said if I wanted to quit at anytime, I was free to return home, but stick it out that first week. It was a huge adjustment, but I did, and I passed the 6 weeks of rigorous training and had to do another one the following summer, but psychologically I was more prepared. We couldn’t change anything, like you did, which I thought was so neat. But in my case, it taught me to tough it out and reap the rewards once I managed to finish the courses. I’ve often used bits of my experiences in my books. Who would have ever thought I would one day find the experiences useful?

  14. A great life lesson learned – but we don’t have all that pledging fraternity stuff here in the UK LOL

  15. Having never been in a sorority due to living in Scotland, the only knowledge I have of fraternities and sororities is what is depicted in films, and I always wanted to be in one! I think mainly because they don’t exist over here, same as cheerleading (another teenage dream)
    I loved reading this post and the words of wisdom that were passed down to you by the president was excellent advice. My mum always told me quitters never win and winners never quit so along the same vein. Thanks for posting such an enjoyable read 🙂

  16. Andreea Gutu

    Great words of advice and very beautifully written story!
    I look forward to more of your posts!
    Warm regards from Romania,

    Andreea

  17. Good post, and even better advice.

  18. “Is that a PLEDGE PIN on your UNIFORM?”
    – Doug Niedemeyer
    Faber College
    Circa 1964

  19. Applies to so many aspects of life.

  20. cb

    Reblogged this on Contrafactual and commented:
    In college I had no interest in joining a fraternity. I was a “rugged individualist” who could and would make it on my own.
    Now some 40 years later, I sometimes ponder the implications of paths not taken.

    The lesson of this story applies to every aspect of personal, social, and business relationships.

  21. Hi Stuart, thank you so much for liking my post as it lead me to your insightful Storyshucker! ‘Stay and Change it!’ it’s just lovely, what priceless advice you received and shared. I think about this notion often, making a difference, I also wonder when is the right time to walk away but I guess that’s another story…Thanks again, Sharee

  22. Pingback: Stuart M. Perkins | THOUGHTS OF A POET IN THE RAIN

  23. Great piece of writing, and memorable advice! I probably would’ve quit, but since I’m from Canada and we don’t really do the fraternity thing here, we’ll never know :). I’m curious; what was the slimy, cold stuff they made you eat blindfolded?

    • Thanks! Well I can’t tell anyone what it was… a fraternity secret that I’ve kept all these years! (but, most would probably be disappointed to learn that all of the ingredients can be bought at a grocery store – maybe not usually mixed together, but all “normal” enough! Thanks again!

  24. I loved this story. Never having the opportunity to go to college, I had heard stories about fraternities and sororities, but thought all the stories were sensationalized without a shred of truth. Now I know what college kids go through Funny! I spent all day yesterday on a college campus – holed up n one area, but I had to blog about it today.

  25. I like the way you tell a story! From this writer, high praises indeed!

    “If you’re involved in something and you don’t like how it’s going, don’t leave it. Stay and change it.” Excellent and inspiring advice on some levels.

    However, in wisdom accrued from long years of living, most of it extremely hard, plus from the perspective of one whose problem isn’t leaving but staying and enduring come hell or high water, whichever kills me first, I’d amend it to: “If you’re involved in something and you don’t like how it’s going, don’t leave it. Stay and change YOU.”

    But that’s another post. 🙂

  26. I both agreed and disagreed with that post. Nicely done. Nothing I like better than some good old thought-provoking… um, thoughts! 🙂

  27. I like this! I REALLY like this! I’ve been tempted to go elsewhere several times. I love my current job a lot but all the nit-picking is ridiculous. I stayed, learned an advanced technology, became an expert at it, and now run a high tech medical room and train others. As I advanced, I came up with new ideas and was given free reign to implement them. I even re-designed a flawed work flow, drew up the plans on graph paper, and oversaw the construction crew. It was delightful to see my coworkers so satisfied with the new flow. And so I continue …”stay and change it.”

  28. What a great piece of advice to be given.

  29. Brings back memories. My line sisters and I tried to effectuate change based on the horrible hazing we experienced only to see the young ladies we initiated go back to the old ways with the next line.

  30. This is an excellent post. I teach at a university and see too many students who assume they have to play the game as instructed. The advice to stay and make a change is a wonderful life lesson.

    Thanks for following my blog, Cancer Hits the Streets. I look forward to reading more from you as well.

  31. Pingback: Stay and Change It – by Stuart M. Perkins | Brad Rhame

  32. Great read Stuart! Thanks for stopping by my blog. As of lately, I have been contemplating looking for a new career. The company for which I currently work is not making me happy. I think you just inspired me to not leave it, but stay and change it. Thanks

  33. I find your observations inchanting and beautifully written. I admire you and hope you will visit my page again soon.

    E

  34. I will be pondering these words…and see what I come up with.

  35. Don’t understand the whole fraternity thing – we don’t do that here in Britain. Both my sons went through US higher education, and neither of them went through the fraternity thing either. Interesting point though – what about when you can’t leave, and don’t feel you can change things either? Just grin and bear it? Thanks for liking my post – looking forward to reading more of your stuff!

  36. Thank you for your words, having bad day,picked me up. I now know what to do. Thank you for sharing.

  37. Make a difference!! I enjoyed the read!! I don’t know much about the system and never watch college type movies so please forgive my ignorance, however, did you make Mr President yourself? Strikes me a few things would have run a lot smoother then! 😉

  38. Love this lesson but what if it is something you can’t change? It would be ok to walk away then.

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