Friday, February 22, 2013

Perspective & UGA

Last week 47 students and 3 advisors packed up and headed to Ramona, CA for the 2013 Ultimate Greek Adventure. Fraternity and sorority leaders gathered and talked about The Radical Leap. As we sat in the meeting room and considered the tenants of LEAP, I was reminded of this very important truth... Perspective is everything.
In his book The Radical Leap, Farber talks about Inspiring Audacity. In the midst of that he outlines what he calls the "OS!M" aka the Oh S*#t! Moment. I have heard it described as that pain in your gut. That churning of your stomach. That moment when you know that you are at the edge of doing something truly outstanding. It scares you, it excites you, it overwhelms you, it affirms you. Those are the best/worst moments of my life.

At UGA there was much debate dialogue about different issues in the fraternity/sorority community. The discussion was important to have and I think some students felt heard in a way that they hadn't before. I remember having similar conversations as an undergraduate. Hours and hours of trying to figure out how to change a culture, how to build experiences for our members that challenged them to be better men and women, how to work with/around the "administration". As I sat with a student this week and asked how they liked the UGA experience, they shared their OS!M. Much like my experience so many years ago, theirs was the same. The student shared, "My 'Moment' was realizing that maybe the intention of some of our changes is to protect us and keep us safe." As I asked what came next, it was clear that the stomach muscles were tightened as the reply came, "I need to help explain that to others."

The Ultimate Greek Adventure... Inspiring conversations and OS!M's for 9 years. Get ready to LEAP!
UGA 2013

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Radical Empathy

One of my favorite fraternity presidents and his sidekick used to stop by my office on almost a weekly basis to "debate" different merits of fraternity life. The conversation always wrapped up the same way. They would assert and I would ask, "Tell me what this has to do with Virtue, Diligence and Brotherly Love?" They would take turns each week rattling off how Brotherly Love is defined and make the connection. They would draw on their own experience to show me how their new idea would make us a stronger community. Brotherly Love was almost always their "go to", and this idea of caring for others has led me to truly examine the idea of Radical Empathy.

Radical Empathy is what I saw from those two men. A willingness to exhibit, "True friendship; When a brother gets knocked down, you're the first one to pick him up." (according to my former president) In that process, we share some of ourselves.

About 8 years ago, a friend called me crying and asked me to pray for her goddaughter who had drowned. I have followed her journey (and her families experience) ever since via their blog. From there I saw other blogs of people who were caring for loved ones that were ill or recovering. As I saw them (and 'met' them), I would add them to my blog reader. I suppose that, in a distant way, I was there so that they weren't struggling alone. These moments give me perspective. There are a lot of alone people out there in our world. Another time, I was leading a train-the-trainers type session and was modeling how to execute an experiential activity. In that moment, I revealed to the group one of the ugliest parts of my story. I had assumed others had shared in that same experience. I stood alone, filled with embarrassment and shame, regret at having shared. This moment gave me perspective. There is power in knowing who you are, and a beauty in realizing that all of us have some "ugly" that made us who we are today. Those moments opened my eyes to be able to connect, share, be more aware of who I am. With that awareness, I am able to show greater empathy and understanding to those around me.

I received this book for my birthday this year from a wonderful friend...
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, came alive for me in the Introduction. While reading these excerpts from an advice columnist named "Dear Sugar", I experienced her work around Radical Empathy. As I turned the pages, Dear Sugar pulled me into her world of do-overs and real talk. She addressed each letter to her with a genuine care and interest, but more importantly, with a Radical Empathy that communicates "I understand". As I consider the perspective I've been given, this is how I want to live. The writer of the introduction shares about Dear Sugar, "...she's offering something almost unheard of in our culture: Radical Empathy. People come to her in real pain and she ministers to them, by telling stories about her own life, the particular ways in which she's felt thwarted and lost, and how she got found again."

You, my fraternity and sorority friends, may be wondering - what does this have to do with our experience? I see this concept to be at the core of community. Take a moment and give yourself a report card on Radical Empathy. Take two moments and give your organization a grade. How did you do? Did you really care enough to sit down, truly listen and share a piece of your story with another? Did you go beyond, "I hear you" and move to "I am in it with you"? Is that idea of "brotherly love" yours?

Finally, as members, are we keeping perspective? When things happen, are you pausing and taking them in so that when the next thing occurs, you have perspective and something to share? We each have a story, a series of experiences that allows us to access deep places of connection with others. Because I naturally find people interesting, I am curious about them and seek that connection. When I ask questions and hear their story, I want Radical Empathy to be my response.

tiny beautiful things by Cheryl Strayed

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Why? It is the right thing to do.

Last month I made a difficult decision. For the past 5 years, I have been closely monitoring the safety and wellness of our members. I have found it to be most at-risk at our overnight, out-of-town formals. There is a significant risk to our members' health with the environment that we cultivate. As we prepare to begin a new semester, we need to do something different. What has happened is, in my heart and mind, the right thing to do.

The desire to be more, be bigger, to push yourself is what can create outstanding leaders that bring phenomenal change. When that desire translates into your experience at social events, some of the worst scenarios possible emerge. What does it mean to be more, be bigger, to push yourself on a weekend away? We are more than our social events. We are friendship. We are brotherhood and sisterhood. We are a family. We are leadership. We are service to the community and one another. We are outstanding. We care. We want each other to be safe and healthy. And, so, a new University policy was proposed.

The new proposed policy that would limit overnight events (and, essentially, end out of town fraternity formals) has made me consider how I would have viewed this from my 20 year old self. My 40 year old self feels that I am doing the right thing. My 40 year old self has also been zinged by many. The zing has ranged - anger, frustration, arguing and one person essentially calling me a bad Student Affairs professional that doesn't care. Bold. I mean, really bold. Each of these interactions has caused me to think and consider more. And, for that, I am appreciative. These thoughts have led me to this piece.

Dear Twenty Year Old Self,
The world is at your fingertips. You are smart, you are strong, you are powerful beyond measure. But, I am worried about you. And, I wish there was a way that I could convey to you now all that I know twenty years down the road.

Over the next year, you are going to encounter a lot of things. I want you to be braver than I was... I want you to do the right thing.
  • When you walk by that fraternity house with the the windows covered with plastic bags, do something. Don't just walk by and think, "That doesn't seem right", call someone or tell your advisor. You may be able to save that chapter, or at least the harm inflicted on those inside that facility.
  • When you fall off the lifeguard tower in the backyard of a fraternity house, don't refuse to go the hospital. Your friends don't deserve the stress and pressure of sitting with you all night to be sure you aren't concussed.
  • You don't have the social media outlets we do today... But, mind what you say. People will remember your snarky attitude. Being hurtful to others isn't going to get you anywhere that you will be proud of in the end.
  • Watch those around you. When you go out of town for events, when you go down the street to parties - watch out for them and help, if needed.
  • Tell your friends when their significant other is cheating on them. You do those you love no favor by turning a blind eye. Be courageous enough to have the tough conversation. It is better now, before marriages and children are involved.
  • It is not normal or healthy for someone to only eat popcorn and mustard. Care enough about yourself to not get caught up in the "how funny" moment of that kind of thing and get help.
The above points are all "moments", but there is also the boldness by which you live. I know, you don't like rules and think that you know best. Sometimes, others will try to care for you in a way that you don't enjoy. When that happens, try to expand yourself to see it from another side. When others tell you that they care for you and want what's best for your life, believe them - even if you don't agree with what's happening. Know that they are feeling a responsibility far greater than you are in this moment.

And, sweet Twenty Year Old Self, know that those of us on the "other side" understand. We are here and ready to welcome you back into community when you are ready. It is never too late to call and fix relationships. It is never too late to apologize. It is never too late to say, "I understand now." I wish all of the best for you as you navigate toward the completion of your college career. 

Your Forty Year Old Self