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Friendship as the Key to Fraternity Life


Written by Father John Sawicki (Duquesne)

A phenomenon that counselors, and others who study the aging process, have observed is the likelihood that the older a man becomes the less likely he is to retain friends. For many men, as age limits their life in various ways, the circle is made tighter by the gradual isolation of this loss of human companionship.

Although we can assign many explanations for this, I’d like to think that the joyful and nourishing quality of fraternity life, decades before, mitigates the onset of this. Good fraternity life, whatever it is, begins and flourishes on friendship. Former collegiate fraternity men of my generation still maintain vibrant friendships even though time, individual families, careers, and distance have made contact challenging. There are many wholesome qualities to fraternity life. Certainly, though, the friends made are the gold standard. Like the poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson notes, “the only way to have a friend is to be one.”

Which makes hazing, if one dwells on it, a mystery. In what way does psychic and physical hurts inflicted on another – any other – generate brotherhood, comradery, teamwork, superior leadership skills, or any of the other positives which can be assigned to membership? Most of all, how does this make someone my friend? More directly, who would do this to their friend?

No one reaching back during their collegiate reunion decades later will remember fondly the alleged brothers who treated him ill. These experiences, and those associated with them, are nothing friends do. Brothers do argue, disagree, and quarrel. But they do not hurt or wound each other. Chapter life is full of practical challenges. But in the end, they are voluntary associations of friends united by common and higher values.

There are many dynamic reasons for fraternity life, but the universal selling points for most Sigma Nu aspirants I have met have been the unflinching opposition to hazing and the friendships they have begun to form. Hazing undercuts the two fundamental reasons the fraternity is attractive.

Who would seek association with people who want to cause them harm? We can speculate that other influences enter into this: greater loyalty to the local, rather than the national, identity; alcohol or other personality changing substances; or maybe the insistence that this behavior is an essential (local) tradition. I think all these, and other points, can be refuted easily, but before even trying to do that, perhaps it is best to return to this, alone: who would do this to their friends?

Because of this, the persistence of fraternity and sorority hazing cases, shocking and illegal though they be, is remarkable. The millions of fraternity and sorority alumni in the country who can recall their chapter life warmly would hardly defend this. So, why do organizations dedicated to friendship struggle with this behavior?

Long before the act, there is the thought. Long before the behavior, there is the openness to the behavior. St. Jerome, never an easy man with whom to deal, wrote “true friendship ought never to conceal what it thinks.” How exactly do the hazers pass through new member education? It seems unlikely they openly announce what they want to do to others in the chapter. But their inclination for this must be present from the start.

If they are hazed, and claim they are only replicating what was done to them, why does the wider chapter tolerate these actions?

This is why truth is such an important element along with love and honor. It is the chapter’s sticky obligation to police such behaviors and confront them immediately. Speaking truth to power is a famously difficult task but speaking truth to our peers is an even more intimidating process. It is the only way forward on this. Hazing often occurs in isolation and secret – themselves testimony to its wrongness whatever other things that are wrong about it. It is the obligation of love to stop this, it is the necessity of honor to confront and report it. Secret dealings have no place in public institutions. To refer back to St. Jerome, friendship cannot coexist with secrets.

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9 North Lewis Street, P.O. Box 1869, Lexington, Virginia 24450
Phone: (540) 463-1869 | Fax: (540) 463-1669 | Email: headquarters@sigmanu.org

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