Archive for April, 2012

How to Give Advice Like a Man

– Topher Endress

I have found some steps that I think allow us to be able to give advice like men.  It is something that we should all learn, because men of character will be looked to for advice in other people’s lives.  This may not be comprehensive or scientific, but I think it is a start.

A) Determine if you should really give them advice

  1. Ask yourself if the person in question actually wants advice (Protip: if it is a woman, chances are she just wants you to listen.  Refrain from trying to immediately fix all of her problems)
  2. Ask yourself if the person actually needs the advice you want to give.
  3. Ask yourself if you are really the best person to give that advice.
  4. Ask yourself how you know that the advice is right.

Now that you are carefully thought about whether you should be giving this person advice, it is time to…

B) Figure out the best way to say it

  1. If you should be giving them advice, you should be confident.  Not that you are completely right, but that you would act the same way in their shoes.
  2. Ask more questions before giving any answers.  Questions often lead people to the right answers anyway, and they are more likely to take their own advice than yours.
  3. You should work to come up with a solution with the person, not for the person.
  4. Make sure that you have the necessary knowledge of how to implement your advice AND the knowledge of potential consequences.

Congrats for making it this far!  You are now ready to…

C) Give the advice

  1. If they wanted you to control their whole lives, they’d let you know.  Stick to the single topic at hand.
  2. Be strong, but not overbearing.  You cannot control anyone, nor should you.  You have reason to be confident and strong (they came to you, afterall), but you have no reason to be overly forceful.
  3. Be understanding, but don’t pussyfoot.  “Well, maybe, if you thought it might work, it could be possible, maybe, that you might consider something like…” I don’t care what advice they follow that up with – if it isn’t good enough for you to state, it isn’t good enough for me to listen to.
  4. Step back after you are done.  Giving advice means that you are speaking into a situation that you are not directly involved in.  Therefore, any time you give advice you should know to butt out when your part is over.

Hopefully, these 3 steps (and 12 substeps) are helpful to you when giving advice in the future.  If not, I clearly don’t know what else to tell you.

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Be Careful Who/What You Align Yourself With

– Topher Endress

The other night, I went with some friends to a movie on campus.  It was a documentary by some college students who were asking some big questions about life and religion as they traveled throughout Europe.  Overall, I liked it pretty well, but I did take some issues with some of what they said (shocking, am I right?).  At various points in the movie, they offered their own ideas of what they thought the truth was for several situations.  In fact, I agreed with them.  I saw their intent and what they aligned themselves with, and I saw how they acted both in the movie and in person (some of the guys came along to present it).  Now, because I could affirm their most basic statements as well, I felt like I was free to challenge some of their applications.  And so, after writing three full comment cards (again, totally and obviously out of character), I had a conversation with one of the guys.

He was a nice guy, but during our conversation I got the feeling like he was maybe in a bit over his head.  And that is fine; I can’t expect everyone to have the exact same level of comprehension on the topics that I know well, just as they surely know far more about some topics than I do.  But the overall conversation was somewhat telling in what this guy really believed.  The argument, in short, was that he felt that Christianity came down to a defining relationship and faith in Jesus.  In order to get there, most people have to disregard the faucets of Christianity and the ‘brainwashing’ they’ve received over the years.  It was said several times that religion has nothing to do with Jesus.  And I saw his intent – that religion as a system of do’s and don’ts leads to a sense of self-righteousness and undeserved self-relience.  But I also saw him tearing down a house to put in a foundation (the house being the infrastructure and cultural component of Christianity, the foundation being Jesus), then roping off that infrastructure and culture and telling people not to bother.  I, on the other hand, feel strongly that once that foundation is down, you must start building up with the materials that their movie was implicitly roping off.  We argued back and forth, redefining terms and concepts, until finally he saw that my point wasn’t really against his, it was just against his application.  With that, he took to heart my concerns and promised to look into how to fix it.  (Nalu is laughing at me right now.  I can feel it.)

Regardless of that individual disagreement, what stuck out to me was how readily some of my friends joined their movement.  Now again, I did agree with the vast majority of what they believed; still, that one issue was big enough to me to want to distance myself.  It seems to me that many times, we are willing to align ourselves with a particular system, belief, group or person that we think shares our values – though many times we really don’t know everything that the system/belief/group/person believes in.  It is easy to get yourself in trouble when you don’t take the time to learn first what is valued.  I’m reminded of the South Park episode where Cartman organizes a huge rally for the people who like ‘The Passion.’  While the people thought they were simply raising awareness about the movie, Cartman had them goose-stepping and chanting, “Es ist zeit fuer Rache! Wir mussen die Juden ausrotten!” (translated: It is time for revenge.  We must exterminate the Jews)((This view is not upheld by your Chaplain, just to be clear)).  The people did not know what the true views of the rally were, and many would probably have been substantially pissed to learn what was really happening.  You have got to be aware of what you say you are a part of.

Additionally, groups that we become a part of can slowly change our perceptions of what we should and shouldn’t do.  In an organization like Phi Tau, I’d hope that we’d be encouraged to become better men for having joined.  However,  some groups will ask you to do things that you don’t feel comfortable doing.  Most fraternities are at least in grave danger of becoming this way.  Things like hazing and wild parties have become standards for these organizations – leading many to violate their personal codes of ethics.  If Phi Tau remains a culmination of men of character, we will never have an organizational problem like that.  But if we allow ourselves to become a frat first and men second, watch out for these signs.  I feel that in today’s college culture, they are likely inevitable.

When joining something larger than ourselves, knowledge and vigilance are absolutely key.  You need to know the values and beliefs, and you must be willing to hold the organization accountable.  So the questions of the day become: What do you believe Phi Tau is?  Why have you aligned yourself with it?  What steps can you make today and this week to ensure that those values are being met on the organizational side?

Remember that I Love You

– Topher Endress

This was the inaugural Senior Speech, given by Topher at the 2nd to last meeting as the lone attending senior.  Sound clip to follow.

It feels somewhat strange to be up in front of everyone without a specific purpose today.  I feel like I’m supposed to be giving you all some sagely, or fatherly advice, but (as many probably know) I am not in fact a father.  Still, I didn’t feel it was enough to simply thank everyone for making the fraternity what it has been.  I do want to thank all of you for justifying my decision to join Phi Kappa Tau – I’ll be the first to admit that I was prejudiced against fraternities for many years before meeting with Jon.  But I like giving advice, so I wanted to find something that would be helpful.  I tried to think of what my father has taught me, but I came up blank.  Not that there wasn’t plenty or that it wasn’t helpful, but nothing I thought of seemed to fit for tonight.  I even called him for advice about advice, which still didn’t sit quite right.  However, there is a statement that I have been picking up more and more on in the past few years.  Towards the end of our conversations, he has been saying the same five words: remember that I love you.  Now, I’m a somewhat long-winded person, so I’d like to dig into this and look word by word at some deeper meanings.  I think what I found both gives advice and also sums up my feelings towards all of you, my new brothers.  I’m going to work in reverse, starting with the word, “you.”

You.  It means that someone knows you.  That someone cares enough to notice.  If someone addresses you, you can know that you are being seen as an individual person.  I think that is important.  We are social creatures.  It doesn’t matter if you are an extrovert or an introvert, we all have some desire to be known.  Being seen tells us we are known and that we matter.  That we have impacted someone enough to get their attention.  And you matter not because of the group you are in, the letters on your chest or the things that you do.  You don’t matter because you are Phi Tau, or an engineer or a pilot, you matter because you are an individual.  Even our creed backs this up – 10 instances of “I” or “me” in our short creed.  I shall be loyal to my college and my chapter.  I shall be a good and loyal citizen.  I shall try always to discharge the obligation to others which arises from the fact that I am a fraternity man.  It is written for individuals, because being a man of character means being assured that you have worth as an individual.

I move on to Love somewhat reluctantly, because we all guys here.  Guys typically don’t like to talk about love, but I don’t think it’s because love is gushy and sentimental.  We don’t like love because love is risky.  Relationships are a two-way street, and there is no promise that the other person will follow through.  We can be hurt pretty badly when our love is not returned.  So when my father says ‘love’ in that statement, it isn’t just the feeling or action of loving someone.  There’s an implicit hope and trust.  There is the hope that I’ll take the risk to love back, and the trust that I’m going to be affected and changed by that love.  My father, I think, also displays both some confidence and some humility as we get to the ‘I’ in “I love you.

The whole statement gives me some power over him.  If you say “I love you” to someone, you are giving them something and the ball is now in their court.  You are at their mercy.  But that ‘I’ tells me that my father is confident in both him and me.  He is confident that his love, which is by far the most personal gift he could give, matters.  It matters because he knows that he matters.

Finally, we come to ‘remember.’  There is a future sense to this, where I’m going to one day need to know that he loves me.  If I’m sitting in the background letting everyone else handle to important stuff, I won’t really need the knowledge of being seen and known, of having someone show me their confidence through the humble act of loving me.  That must mean that his statement is a call to action.  It says, “What you have is good enough to start.  You’re ready.  And when it gets tough, as it inevitably will, remember what I have given you.  Because being a man of character takes risk.  It takes humility.  It takes confidence.  But I see you and I trust that you can do it.”

As you go out and continue to raise Phi Kappa Tau Lambda from the ashes, as you continue to change perceptions and change lives, as you show Purdue that we frat differently, as you teach the community that we have established a gentleman’s fraternity, remember that you have worth.  Remember that you should be humble.  Remember that you are allowed to be confident.  And remember that I love you.

Sunday: The Kind of Friends We Should Want

– Topher Endress

Many of you heard the exciting tale of Doppler and I trying to make it home from break. I will say for the record that when we switched outside Atlanta, Doppler peeled out quite unnecessarily from a Taco Bell parking lot.  I therefore blame him for the blown tire that exploded just past Chattanooga.  Now, being past 5 on a Sunday in the South, we were pretty much guaranteed to find that nothing was open.  Luckily, we did manage to find an all-night wrecker who was willing to put on the tires (neglecting to tell us that they couldn’t balance them until we got there…) and since the Wal-Mart manager hung up on me once, they had to play nice and reopen their tire shop.  So, we got the tires, got to the wrecker, and waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.  Several people did come, but we were waiting on a mechanic.  So, we got some nice conversation from the lady in charge, but no work done.  After several hours, we finally got back on the road.  However, since there was no balancing machine, the tires really could have forced us to stop for the night anyway.  We decided to test them out and stop if we needed to.

That of course led to an interesting predicament – if we have to stop, where would we sleep?  Neither of us wanted to sleep in a car, but we really didn’t want to pay for a hotel room.  Luckily, we knew some people who lived on the route home.  So we got to calling.  Starting a few hours north in Murfreesboro, we had a place to stay in every major city along the way home within an hour.  And I wasn’t surprised in the slightest.  I was certain that each guy I called was going to offer up his apartment immediately – from the guys who have essentially been family for the last 5 years to the guy I spent 3 weeks working with two summers ago.  I was confident because I knew what our friendship entailed.  These were the guys that I could call for pretty much anything, even if it was late at night and/or inconvenient.  This is what the results of a good friendship can look like.

Now, I’m sure that many of you would open your doors to even a casual acquaintance  in our position.  But the certainty that I felt comes not from being friends with nice enough people, but from establishing a solid relationship.  All the guys I called on that particular night are really nice – but even if some were complete jerks they would have let us crash.  Being nice and being a friend are not the same thing.

Here’s a challenge: Write down everyone you are good enough friends with to call at 3:00 AM tomorrow.  If you have a ton, you probably already know how to establish in-depth and solid relationships.  If you are lacking, or can’t even find 1, it doesn’t mean you are failing at life.  But, you might be well served to try and change something on your end to make your friendships deeper.

With every one I called, I have had a conversation where we bared our souls to each other.  This can be difficult for three main reasons. 1: We don’t know ourselves well enough to share our deepest thoughts/feelings.  2: We assume that the other person doesn’t want to hear it.  3: Finding a conversation where it fits in readily is basically impossible.  These are legitimate things that stifle honest conversations, so I want to give some practical advice.

  • First, start taking time out each day to reflect both on what has happened and how the events of the day affected you.  Did you get really mad about a bad test grade?  Did you feel embarrassed because a cute girl ignored you?  Did you get too excited when you found out “Rocko’s Modern Life” was on Netflix (true story)?  Reflecting on the actions you take and the way they make you feel is the best way to teach yourself about … yourself.
  • Second, find someone who at least won’t run away from the conversation.  Then, man up and spill your guts.  It may not be a 40-minute rant.  It may be a short tangent in the conversation, but if it is honest and clues the other person into who you really are, your relationship will grow.  Here’s the secret – most people want to share and be shared with.  We want to know each other and be known.  So take that first step.  Grow and pair and put yourself out there.
  • Third, you’re just going to have to realize that being awkward is part of life.  We don’t live on a faux-reality show where writers script meaningful looks into our eyes.  Life is messy and weird – our conversations will reflect that.  Sometimes things don’t sound right in the moment, but 30 seconds later, you can’t imagine talking about anything else.  There is no perfect moment.  Just go for it.

I would love to grow closer to every brother before I take off in May.  I want to be that kind of friend where you know for certain that I will take your call at 3 AM and let you crash when you are stranded in Nashville.  I think that is a good goal for all of us – let’s all be that kind of friend.

Saturday: The House/Respect as a Defining Value

– Topher Endress

DISCLAIMER: I will not release the name of the chapter we visited, nor will I make any sort of personal attack on the men – our brothers – who we met on our trip.  My intent is simply to explore how we can learn from an existing chapter, including flaws that were apparent for at least the little time we spent with them.  Please do infer anything about whether this is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ chapter – these are still our brothers, and we owe it to them to love and serve them just as well as anyone in our colony.  That being said…

On our way home, we wanted to connect with one of our chapters across the country.  With a few nearby, we should probably have done this sooner, but it is always cool to get to see a new place.  After calling approximately 6 million numbers, none of which were right, we managed to get a hold of someone who was actually in a chapter near one of our potential routes.  I would like to say that it was a crazy experience, where Doppler and I did things unimaginably awesome that would seem far-fetched even in a National Lampoon movie, but in all honesty, it was pretty vanilla.  Their campus was nice and their house was awesome on the outside – very new and fancy.  The inside wasn’t in great shape, but only because we happened to visit the morning after St. Patty’s Day/Founder’s Day.  Let’s just say that there were several monochromatic drinking receptacles, with the remains of some traditional liquids still in some, scattered festively about.  Overall, I liked their house a lot.  What I didn’t like was what I heard while I was there.

First, there was very little enthusiasm when we showed up.  I’m not saying I wanted a parade, but some acknowledgement that we share a connection that makes us closer than strangers.  When we eventually get a house, PLEASE treat guest with not just respect, but with enthusiasm and excitement.  Brothers are brothers, so despite whether you know them or not, remember that they are essentially family.  But hey, they were probably suffering from “being up too late” the night before, so no biggie.

As we went on the house tour, we stopped by some rooms and had a chat with most of the guys left (they were starting Spring Break).  It was fine talking to them, again, these weren’t bad guys.  But during the conversation, it became apparent that what they were focused on and how they chose to talk around us were different from how we have interpreted our values as Men of Character.  Again, they were being honest, but as a guest, I wasn’t expecting to hear about things like drunken exploits, poor sexual decisions and disagreements with other brothers/national staff.

These are things that happen.  Experiences that our colony has had/will have.  However, these are not the things to be talking about to two people you have just met.  Still, the worst part was in how they interacted with each other.  There was such an obvious lack of respect for each other that at times, I actually felt bad for some of them. It wasn’t just the back-and-forth typical of guys, it was stuff that showed a disregard for the value of their brother.

They also talked down to pledges and freshmen and spoke of making them do things (not hazing – need to stress that) that made them to seem like less than full, valued men.  Let me just say this – yes, younger guys need to learn about the community, rules, values and traditions of the chapter.  However, that does not mean that they need to prove themselves.  No pledge should be expected to clean the house as a way of getting into our chapter.  If they are worthy of getting a bid, they are worthy on their own merit – not because they can take the abuse of the older brothers.  As an alumnus as of May, I will not see our first few pledge classes, but some of you will.  You will need to be the leaders here.  If you have to rely on the younger guys to do the grunt work, you need more humility and a stronger work ethic.  And if you need to ‘test’ them on things like cleaning up on a Saturday morning, maybe you need to learn to choose men of character better.  We should be above things like that.  OK, done with the rant.

Long story short, what I did not see at the other chapter was Respect.  Respect for the organization we are a part of.  Respect for the spirit of brotherhood.  Respect for each individual.  We are young, and still growing.  Going forward, we can progress or we can simply move along.  To move along, we charter and become a typical fraternity.  To progress, we show the world that Men of Character value respect.  Because if you can’t show someone else respect, what are you telling them about yourself?

How can you show someone you already respect how you feel today?  Who do you know that you don’t respect?  How can you work on changing your attitude and/or actions towards them?