Here’s a recent conversation I overheard between a collegiate officer and one of my esteemed colleagues:
Collegian: We can’t just stop recruiting with alcohol. We wouldn’t be able to compete with the other elite chapters on our campus. Everyone does it and we have to keep up.
HQ Staff Member: What if I told you there were other chapters recruiting without alcohol that are not only getting by but are excelling more than any other chapter on campus?
Collegian: That may work some places but it could never work here. It’s different here at _______ University.
HQ Staff Member: What if I told you that we recruited the men to start this very chapter without alcohol? (And did quite well I might add.)
Collegian: Wait, hold on. Where are you from?
HQ Staff Member: I grew up and attended school in the ______ region of the country.
Collegian: See, that explains everything. Things are different here in the ________. There’s just no way you could understand how things work if you’re not from here.
So goes the conversation, so predictable in its nature, that every Greek Life professional has had many times over with their student leaders. Here is what the well-intentioned collegian really means:
TRANSLATION: I don’t care if recruiting with alcohol attracts members who are causing us to fail. I would rather continue to fail than accept information from an outsider. I’ve made up my mind and I’m so stubborn and arrogant that no amount of contrary evidence is going to change my decision.
Sometimes it’s natural to be skeptical of outsiders, but eventually we all learn the hard way that automatically dismissing outsider’s advice makes us one step closer to failure. A brief mention of two historical figures shows that outsiders can teach us more about ourselves than we ever imagined.
Take philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand, author of bestselling novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Rand, originally named Alisa Rosenbaum, grew up in communist Russia and eventually emigrated to the United States. Surely a woman raised in such an authoritarian, collectivist culture could never be qualified to write novels about capitalism and individualism. Who in their right mind would listen to her? To the contrary, many would argue that this outsider (putting aside her controversies for this particular example) has taught us more about our way of life than any homegrown American philosopher or economist.
Or what about Alexis de Tocqueville, the famous French politico best known for his work Democracy in America. Born and educated in France, Tocqueville traveled the United States providing an outsider’s perspective on the American way of life. Widely regarded as one of the most influential political philosophers of his time, Tocqueville is still quoted in speeches by American politicians to this day.
Consider this example that hits closer to home. Out of all of our excellent College of Chapters facilitators, the majority of whom are initiated Knights, the female facilitators are often the most effective. Mindy Sopher, Kristin Morgan, Lindsay Grifford, Krystal Clark, and Kayte Sexton Fry–to name a few–are revered by College of Chapters participants by week’s end. Hardly outsiders, these women understand our organization as well if not better than we do.
Our founding principle of Truth is often confused with honesty, an equally important virtue to be sure. However, in the context of Sigma Nu’s founding, Truth is more closely associated with seeking sound information to make the most informed decisions possible. It calls for the willingness to abandon a false paradigm even if it might be psychologically painful. Seeking the Truth encompasses the process by which we make good decisions, including the consideration of all viewpoints even if it means swallowing our pride and listening to a perceived outsider.