By Peggy King, National Ritual Chairman, Phi Mu Fraternity
Happy National Ritual Celebration Week! If I had to choose the mantra of the fraternal world in vogue these days, it would have to be “Live Your Ritual,” and there is no better time than now to focus on the ideals that our fraternal rituals espouse.
“Living Your Ritual” is a noble thought, but just how does one go about accomplishing this lofty goal? We know that to be successful in achieving a goal, we must have a plan. One popular example is S.M.A.R.T. – our goals must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Are they?
Simply by asking our members to “Live Your Ritual” defies the very first step of achieving our goal. It is far too vague a command to know exactly what that means and when we have been successful., especially with such a moving, ongoing target. A better option is to clearly define what our individual organizations ask of our members. For some, those ideals may be expressed in a Creed; for others, the key concepts may be part of an Initiation oath or pledge.
I will share the example I am most familiar with as Phi Mu’s National Ritual Chairman. Phi Mu’s Creed sets a standard for members asking them to strive to live loving, honorable, and truthful lives. We all have a certain idea of what each of these means, but the concepts are still far too vague to be measurable.
What does it mean to be loving? Phi Mu’s Creed spells out the expectations: “to lend to those less fortunate a helping hand; to think of God as a protector and guide of us all; to keep forever sacred the memory of those we have loved and lost.; to be to others what we would they would be to us; to keep our lives gentle, merciful and just.”
And to be honorable? By “guarding the purity of our thoughts and deeds; being steadfast in every duty small or large, believing that our given word is binding; striving to esteem the inner man above culture, wealth or pedigree; being honorable, courteous, tender.”
And finally, our members are expected “to serve in the light of truth, avoiding egotism, narrowness and scorn; to give freely of our sympathies.”
I have yet to meet many individuals who can live up to these lofty standards 100% of the time. I will freely admit that I haven’t, but I also know that I try. Some may think it silly of me to keep a copy of the Phi Mu Creed on the dresser where I get ready in the mornings, but it serves to remind me of the kind of person I want to be. We are human beings with human flaws and these are, after all, high expectations. So have I failed? Have we failed? Have our members failed us, or have we failed them?
The Rituals of our fraternal organizations provide a framework for and a picture of the kind of lives we want for our members. We fail our members by not being specific about our expectations. Too often, we recruit our members based on one set of standards and expectations (appearance, partying opportunities), then we do a “bait and switch” when it comes to expecting them to live according to our Ritual. The two are not always in sync.
We fail our members, too, when we do not give them the support and motivation to live our Ritual. Are we providing opportunities for philanthropic work if that is one of our goals? Are we holding memorial services for loved ones we have lost? Are we being the sister/brother to them that we expect them to be to us? When a member strays from our expectations, are we quick to judge and punish, or do we provide a system to address the unacceptable behavior and provide support for change? Do we recognize those that are living examples of our expectations?
To make our Ritual goals more tangible and to demonstrate their achievability, we should be allowing time at every meeting for members who have exemplified our ideals to be recognized and applauded.
Our efforts at clearly defining the meaning of “Living Our Ritual” pay off when we see a measurable difference in the number and caliber of members we recruit and in the number of “cases” that must come before our disciplinary boards. Along the way we may find that for some “Living our Ritual” is not realistic. Is that a bad thing? After all, shouldn’t our members have a shared vision of what it means to be a member?
Where do we begin such a monumental task as “Living Our Ritual”? Let us clearly define what that means and challenge each and every member to invest in our ideals. Let’s take inventory annually to evaluate our shortcomings and plan for change if needed. Let’s celebrate success!
If we truly want to change the too-often negative image of Greek life, let’s not only let our Rituals and ideals be known, but let’s “shout it from the mountaintop” that we are organizations truly striving to develop responsible members to lead their families, their communities and the world today and tomorrow. And we are succeeding! Let’s not make that a well-kept secret!
Peggy King was initiated into the Alpha Eta Chapter of Phi Mu Fraternity at Louisiana State University in 1969. She has served as Phi Mu’s National Council Member-at-large, National Alumnae Vice-president, Volunteer Coordinator, Phi Mu Foundation Trustee and as National Ritual Chairman since 2002. She has received the Fraternity’s Outstanding Alumnae Achievement Award as well as LSU’s Greek Excellence Award and a Leave a Legacy Award in her local community. Peggy holds a B.S. in Spanish, an M.A. in Cultural Anthropology and an MA+30 in Curriculum and Instruction. She currently teaches Spanish in LSU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and is an assessment administrator for Westat, a research company under contract to the U.S. Department of Education.