Mar 9, 2012

The Words on the Page

GHQ Staff Blogger Ritual Values/Principles
The Words on the Page

Happy National Ritual Celebration Week! Over these past few days, you’ve read blogs from a number of influential Fraternity/Sorority members that all focus on a primary question: “What does it really mean to live your Ritual?” Hopefully you have found them both insightful and meaningful.

What I have come to discover in my Fraternity experience is that you cannot live your Ritual until you are confident in your understanding of it. Think about the last time you heard the words of the Bond, and for our non-Phi Delt readers, think about the last time you read your Creed. Perhaps you simply listened to the words, perhaps someone has memorized the words, perhaps, even, you know the vast majority of the words’ definitions. But what does it all mean? We listen to the writings, but do we truly understand the words on the page?

Our Rituals were written using words, diction, and syntax that are 100-200 years old. They are from a time of intense academic pursuit and a significant appreciation for language; a time of spoken propriety and intellectual prowess for those with the opportunity to attend university. This appreciation for language has been long since forgotten by the general population, and thus poses the inherent question: How can Fraternity and Sorority members of today live their Ritual when its ceremonies and guarded meanings are written in an all but lost form of prose?

Think about the words on the page… When was the last time you used one of those words in such a profound way? When have you heard others use similar words in such an eloquent amalgamation? And when was the last time you stared at those sacred pages and looked beyond the words on the page, looked beyond yourself and your Brothers/Sisters, and sought out the hidden wisdom of the Founders? Unfortunately, the assumption is that we cannot fully answer any of these questions.

Herein lies the challenge for our members – to understand the words on the page to a degree that allows an individual or Chapter to internally process, and externally exhibit the principles and intentions of those words; to live a purposeful life that illustrates the clandestine meanings of those principles. When our vernacular persistently abbreviates and simplifies itself, can we seek the ability to comprehend words that in such a way, have transcended time and have remained unchanged since their inception?

If you are up to the challenge, then let’s talk about where to start. I believe the secret is not only in the words on the page, but also in the words, experiences, and tenets of members from the past that sought the same truths. I believe that living the Ritual of Phi Delta Theta is, quite simply, the actualization of the well-known quote by Walter B. Palmer:

“Phi Delta Theta was organized with three principle objectives: The cultivation of friendship among its members; the acquirement individually of a high degree of mental culture, and the attainment personally of a high standard of morality.”

Think about Brother Palmer’s words… these axioms echo the Three Cardinal Principles of Friendship, Sound Learning, and Rectitude. These few lines of text comprise the articulation of a lifestyle pursuant to the sacred principles we swore to uphold. It is the equation that defines how we can live our Ritual, and it is the map of how we, as members of Phi Delta Theta should live our lives. If this is the map, where is the compass? We can use other quotes from members of the past to clarify Brother Palmer’s words and discern the truth from the words on the page. Below are the three tenets with lines that I believe further-explain their concepts:

The cultivation of friendship among its members…

“It is the spirit of true brotherhood that touches the depths of a man’s inner life and wards off sorrows and disappointments, opens the way for the highest services, and furnishes the inspiration for right living.” – John Wolfe Lindley

The acquirement individually of a high degree of mental culture…

“The Fraternity must always work in harmony with the college for the true ends of education” – Arthur R. Priest.

The attainment personally of a high standard of morality…

“Every organization that is right and proper in its nature, will be what the men who constitute it are.” – Robert Morrison

See how each quote contributes to the clarification of each tenet? If you want to take this exercise a step further, I challenge you to write your own definitions for “highest services, right living, and true ends of education”. In addition, what is Brother Morrison saying in this quote? Take a few minutes and think about these words on the screen, and the fact they are on a screen and not on an actual page… These are just a few examples of thoughts and questions you can ask yourself and your members if you seek to decipher the words on the page.

The fact of the matter is that our members will only understand our Ritual to the degree that they comprehend the meanings of the words on the page. Now, by understand, I’m not referring to having a notion, idea, or feeling, but rather a level of comprehension that one can apply, voice, and model that understanding to others. This is not to say that every member should dedicate years to vigilant study and attaining meaning from the words of Ritual. It simply means that we should work together in helping each other to learn about the words on the page. It means that through sacrificing a little time and deriving greater truth and purpose from the words on the page, we will have the essential ability to articulate what it means to live out those principles and be the men and women we swore to be.

Brother Luke Benfield is the Director of Education at General Headquarters. Luke is a member from the Georgia Gamma Chapter at Mercer University. He has a bachelor’s degree in English literature and economics, as well as a master’s degree in educational leadership. Before coming to GHQ, Luke was the Fraternity and Sorority Life Advisor at Coastal Carolina University, as well as the IFC advisor at Florida Gulf Coast University in graduate school.

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