Ann Coulter

– Topher Endress

Men, we have read posts on the importance of words, but I need to take some space to write about a very problematic issue that many of us (myself included) face. All to often, it is easy for us to call something by the wrong name. We willingly forsake accuracy for emphasis in many conversations – not always a bad thing, of course. However, sometimes this lack of consideration for our terms is very damaging to others.  Take, for example, Ann Coulter’s recent tweets about Obama.  During one of the presidential debates, she referred to him directly as a retard, then later said that if Obama was the smartest man in the room, it must be one retarded room.  Now, especially on election day, I’m not going to pick sides and say that she’s right and saying it wrong, or that she’s wrong and saying it really wrong.  I will, however, never mention Ann Coulter again in an effort to keep her off the airwaves.  Someone who is so blatantly disrespectful does not deserve our attention for it.  Of course, as I think about her word choice, I can’t help but think about what I hear from the people around me.

When was the last time you said someone was retarded?  Not too long ago, if you are anything like the general 20-somethings population that I’ve known.  See, our culture has taken this word and misapplied it because, as a descriptor, it adds emphasis to what we say.  I didn’t just make a mistake, I’ll apologize for being retarded.  That person isn’t just asking a question in class, they are retarded for not getting it right away.  The ref didn’t make a bad call, he is retarded for missing that obvious foul.  It is quite literally akin to using the word literally to describe feelings (when it is far more likely that you intend to say emphaticallylegitimately, or passionately).  We like being able to emphasize our words through these types of hyperboles.

However, let me point out two main reasons why misusing the word retarded will ensure a swift kick to the face from me next time I see you in person: retarded was never meant to describe a person and retarded is an emotionally charge word that places the power in the listener’s ear.

First, there is a proper use of the word.  Today, it is used to only to describe a system or process that is slowly down or being hindered.  In music, you have a retardando when the tempo slows.  We have machines that retard and baby clothes that are flame retardant.  While this could have described those with mental handicaps several years ago, I would hope that each person reading this blog would realize how inappropriate and  inaccurate that term is if used to describe a human.  I don’t mind anyone using that term properly, but it is never the correct usage to use it as a description of a person.

Second, the biggest reason that this word is offensive is because it is.  Simply put, because a critical mass of people have used it inappropriately as a pejorative term, anyone using it now is necessarily bringing in the negative connotations that come with it.  We don’t have those same negative emotions associated with other adjectives – I wouldn’t be offended if you called me “quixotic,” but if enough people started using “quixotic” as an insult I would eventually be offended by that term no matter how good of a descriptor it once was.  We are Men of Character.  Not knowing that something is offensive is an excuse that can be used once at most – we do have an obligation to understand how to best relate to and see the value in each person around us.  Part of that means educating yourself on how to interact in a way that is fair to both parties.  Of course, that is the general ideal.  The word retarded is well-known to be offensive, so I personally wouldn’t give anyone that one-time pass.

I understand that as guys, it is natural for many of us to rib each other.  Most insults and bickering are more parodies of masculinity than they are true expressions.  But there is no reason for a group of dedicated Men, Men who want to change the perception of fraternal life at Purdue, Men who want to cause an impact in their community, Men who strive to be a light in already too-dark world, should ever jeopardize their efficacy by using words that serve no purpose other than furthering a divide with an already maligned community.  Many people hearing the word retarded recognize that it stands for a label that dehumanizes someone with mental handicaps or disabilities.  And no Man of Character I know would ever stand for that.

How can you work on changing your vocabulary to exclude words that only serve to insult?  When do you find yourself using terms like that, and how can you change those situations?  What other words might you be using that offend those around you?

As a final read, I highly recommend this open letter, penned to Ann Coulter after her tweets.

Movember

– Topher Endress

So October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month – I know that involvement around Purdue was steadily increasing each of my years there, so I assume everyone was made aware and possibly donated some money to research.  Overall, I think the communities that I have been in have done a great job to not only raise lots of research funds, but have really changed the way that we talk about women’s health.  While breast cancer and heart disease are the two biggest factors for early deaths in women, it seems like it is no longer a strange and/or awkward conversation on the community platform.  Women seem to be more able to converse about mammograms, screenings, taking care of their bodies and helping men learn about the unique issues facing women today.  And this is a great thing that should absolutely continue.  However, October is over and November is here.  This means that basketball has finally started, plans for gorging oneself at Thanksgiving are being made, and National Men’s Health Awareness Month is here!

A group in Australia started a campaign to coincide with the college males’ favorite season – No Shave November.  Now, our laziness and unwillingness to buy a razor can finally pay off!  Dubbed “Movember” (as “moe” is slang down under for moustache (yes, I’m using the formal English spelling)), the campaign has raised almost $22 million so far this month to be donated to Prostate Cancer initiatives and other men’s health organizations (they have raised about $300 million since 2004, with their donations increasing almost exponentially since then).  So, yes, I am growing a moustache in support of men’s health awareness.  Additionally, I am embarking on a campaign (with help from a nurse) to create some dialogue about how to bring health issues before communities.  I think this is very important, because the main issue with men’s health is not a singular issue (nor is it for women, but the prevalence of breast cancer makes it one of the biggest single targets for research).  While 1 in 6 men can expect to get prostate cancer in their lifetimes, the biggest issue facing us XYs is that too many men refuse to seek medical attention until very treatable problems have become major issues.  Prostate cancer is almost never as aggressive as other cancers, but when left unchecked it can cause serious issues.  Realistically, many of the top causes of death for men could be prevented with a higher willingness to access medical treatment.  Part of that is economic, which is it’s own issue, but part of it is simply men being hard-headed.  I am asking each of you to remember the power of preventative care and early detection.

Now, I am creating this campaign within my school because I believe that my classmates and I have a voice.  Being in Divinity school, I will likely have the opportunity to stand before a congregation, and I would love to know how to best address issues like these.  And while my current position and community are different than yours, I think we can all learn from this years Movember.  At the end of the month, I will be hosting a Moustache Bash, where all of my classmates are provided with and encouraged to wear a fake moustache all day to help show to others the importance of understanding the issues.  I will be posting all of the notes from our discussions here so that you all can begin to think of effective ways to use your times, talent and positions to help men better understand health issues.  This is one great way we can be discharging our obligation to others that arises from the fact that we are fraternity men.

*I don’t have an account to donate to, but you should send your money to my buddy Anthony (http://us.movember.com/mospace/3657205) and for more information on Movember, please check out their site here.

The Economy of Grace

– Topher Endress

Being at a school like Purdue (or Vandy, in my case) allows us opportunities to see some of the big hitters of the corporate world.  We get the chance to rub elbows with recruiters for major worldwide companies, meet with alumni who have seen wild success and listen to the frontline of information concerning the economy – both from those in the working world and those studying it.  Of course, our schools are big enough to offer several alternative options of study in case rampant capitalism isn’t your ideal field.  And, as I will argue through this post, it shouldn’t be – at least in terms of Phi Tau.

Solidifying my position as a non-technical nerd, I’ve been spending my Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings in an early morning ancient Greek class (it’s ok, I’m jealous of me, too).  Among the few things that I have learned from this class are two words, which we love to join together in English:

oikon nomy: home name. Rendered in English as “echo nomy,” or economy.

The original conception of economy was not one of dollars and cents.  Economy instead meant considering the needs of a household or family unit.  I believe that it is worth our time to consider how we view ourselves and our brothers in the economy of Phi Tau.

Is the economy of Phi Tau one of capitalism?  Do we look to our brothers and our organization for personal gain?  Is the economy of Phi Tau one of Kenynesianism, where the desires of our men are held in check by the pragmatism of our bylaws? How do we consider the value and usability of the fraternity?  After all, we affirm that each man has inherent worth, and I think we can safely assume that the abstract parts of Phi Kappa Tau (Ritual, creed, the membership in something larger than oneself, having 90,000 brothers, etc.) and the potentials of Phi Tau (networking, opportunities for leadership training, chance to work at SeriousFun, etc.) all have value.  So, the men, the abstracts and the potentials all must be categorized into a coherent system, or economy.

I will say that I think this can be done better by someone smarter than I.  However, I will do my best to create a system that works and is true to our chapter.

The Abstracts of Phi Tau are tools for teaching

There is much to be learned from studying most things.  However, our Creed, our Values, our Ritual and any other writings or Phi Tau knowledge is intentionally shaped to hold more weight than a cursory glance would indicate.  We have some dense documents and studying them in depth will prove fruitful.  We as initiated brothers have an obligation to foster deeper understandings of Phi Kappa Tau, and that comes in large part by participating in and studying what has been handed down to us.  The tools for learning how to lead, love, serve, learn and grow are all before you now.

The Value of Brothers should be considered above all in terms of grace

America is known for it’s insistence on free-market capitalism as the way to prosperity.  I’m not going to argue that case on a macro scale, but I will certainly make the claim that too much of our lives are dictated by this thought pattern.  Based on the Abstracts of Phi Kappa Tau, I believe that when it comes to our interactions with our brothers, we should not be shaped by the free market, capitalist, quid pro quo mentality. The value that each man brings is not a commodity to be bought, sold or controlled.  First, recognize that you are only in control of yourself.  Then, give of yourself with zero expectations.  You don’t need anything in return for sharing your gifts with your brothers, your house, your oikon.  Instead, work to ensure the livelihoods of each are taken care of.  Our market-based perception is easy and readily permeates everything.  It is safe to give with the expectation of receiving an equal amount in return.  Grace means giving without respect to being repaid.  Men of Character are not safe.  Go outside of the system and give everything to community, charity and brothers.  The Economy of Grace is radical and shocking. Be radical.

http://www.tubechop.com/watch/586129
I really like this song – this small section can be encouraging and galvanizing.  Don’t let the nature of how others run things keep your from growing. This is a war against the norm!  What are you waiting for?  Why don’t you break the rules already?

The Potentials of Phi Tau are rewards only reaped after experiencing the Abstracts and Value of Brothers

I have heard several men try to recruit others (myself included) into fraternities.  Their main selling point is potential – large alumni/networking bases, leadership training, seminars, etc.  Sure, these are great things.  But by focusing on them without recognizing that our basis for having any Potentials is understanding our Abstracts and valuing our Brothers, they did a disservice to the men they ended up recruiting.  Not only is fraternity life not simply a club to join in order better one’s lot easily, the Potentials available are really only available to those who understand the Creed and live it out through an Economy of Grace.  Who can truly learn to lead without first serving?  And who can learn how to serve within Phi Tau without a knowledge of what Phi Tau stands for?  Serving, learning and growing are important, but each is far more edifying when you have reason to base your actions on.

I believe that if we re-categorize what we can gain from Phi Kappa Tau and place those benefits more or less linearly into this model, we will see that the Economy of Grace – built off of our Ritual, Creed and other Abstractions – will lead you to a better experience during your time as an undergraduate brother and will help the Potentials that can better you as a Man of Character materialize.

In Defense of Andrew Lohse

– Topher Endress

It has recently come to light that Andrew Lohse, a former Dartmouth SAE,  has revealed not just fraternity secrets but intimate stories of hazing. The details are as gruesome as anyone might expect, which you can read about in the original Rolling Stone article here.  And for this, the non-Greek community has generally raked Greek life over the coals, lambasting the “cult of Greek life” for being an institution that could allow such practices. These criticisms, though largely valid, are also stemming from a lack of knowledge concerning actual fraternity life. Most of those reporting on news of hazing and culture frankly are offering opinions shaded with lens that haven’t been in the systems.  There are several ‘in house’ sites that have taken this story on, though, with opinions and commentary from men and women from Greek backgrounds.  However, it saddens me that I felt it necessary to write this critique in light of these writings, as many of these stories seem to be coming from pro-hazing web sites.

Total Frat Move, a comedy website that I will admit to reading, recently produced an article critical of Andrew Lohse using arguments and structure similar to an article that would defend rape by attacking women. It is against this that I must take a stand.  When it comes to a story that is so intimately tied to fraternity culture, I want to read commentary by someone who knows what that means.  However, all I have read from pro-frat sites sickens me.  The TFM post announcing the content of Lohse’s leaked book proposal immediately attacks college newspapers as being run by geeds who are fed up with being kicked out of frat parties.  The author (going by the name Sratire) then attacks Ivy League education by mocking Lohse’s word choice.  His intentions are immediately assumed to be ignoble at best – either making money or simply by dragging friends’ names through the mud.  I can barely contain my rage when I read this ensuing paragraph:

“Really, having followed this story since well before it was covered nationally, the most remarkable fact is not the drug use or his tales of pledgeship, but rather that both this man and the original whistleblower were able to go through rush and pledgeship next to the other brothers and then engage in this behavior. If, as a member of an organization, you feel concerned about drug use or hazing, it is your responsibility to speak directly with those involved and try to better both that person as an individual and the group as a whole rather than to silently cultivate an attitude of moral superiority.”

Clearly, Sratire is unfamiliar with the current thought processes of abusive relationships, where often women are technically free to leave or stand up at any moment but psychologically or emotionally cannot do so.  In a system like a Greek house, the overwhelming culture makes it difficult to stand against the tide.  Perhaps if only one or two brothers were responsible for the drug use and hazing, there would be a case here – the other 40 men could overwhelm their culture instead.  But what Lohse is writing about is a systematic and institutionalized culture that works to change to mindset of these young men.  It cannot be easily broken.  There is no quick fix and standing up for oneself, while noble, is not quite as easy as TFM seems to think.

The language here is an issue.  Instead of attacking the problem of hazing, distancing themselves from the disturbing and illegal practices going on at Dartmouth, TFM mocks the very idea that hazing is an issue.  Imagine the uproar if someone were to write this exact same article about a proposed book on a rape event.  Only a few slight details need to be changed for continuity and you have the beginning of one of the most insensitive articles you should ever hope to read.  The mentality is the same – by blaming the victim instead of the institution, no changes have to be taken.  They can live with what they’ve done or what they’re doing because the blame is no longer focused on the actions.  Sure, should Lohse really be sharing all of SAE’s secrets?  Probably not.  But he is absolutely right in blowing the whistle on hazing.  Any defense of author-victimization or institutionalized hazing shows me that the author really doesn’t care about what makes a fraternity a fraternity (or a sorority a sorority).

So yes, anyone who takes issue with a practice needs to speak up.  But it is not incumbent upon them to change an organization.  A fraternity, like Phi Kappa Tau, must be vigilant for practices that will make men uncomfortable.  I am proud to say that if someone were to write an exposé on Lambda Chapter, I would not feel any need to distance myself from any of our actions.  Lets be real, the closest we’ve ever come to hazing was trying (often unsuccessfully) to get guys to sing Disney songs at karaoke nights.  But eventually, a time will come when someone suggests an activity that makes someone uncomfortable – but that they feel a need to be a part of.  It will be up to everyone to put an end to anything like that well before it starts.  More than that, though, we must actively take a stand against the silent condonation of hazing that members of the Greek community apparently are taking.  Not a single TFM comment offers any sort of “hey, hazing is pretty bad” opinion.  Instead, every single comment either mocks him for being gay (which he is not, and that type of language used as insults is offensive for far too many reasons to include here) or for being a liar (which seems unlikely).  No one wants to face their own demons.

Men, hazing is a problem.  And condoning hazing is a problem.  And we all know this.  But pretending that hazing isn’t happening is also a problem.  Pretending that pledges feel free to stop any action they aren’t comfortable with at any moment is a problem.  Frankly, no matter how careful you are with traditional pledgeship, there will always be the issue of newer guys trying to fit in and feel accepted.  Peer pressure happens almost regardless of intentionality.  Maybe we don’t have the “sink baptism” of SAE, but any time someone thinks they have to do something that is against their own conscious in order to fit in, we have failed just as badly.  As these new men are receiving bids, understand that becoming a traditional frat means fighting a losing battle against a culture war.  We should never be considered anything less than different.  I don’t have the answers, but I know that the answers do not involve ignoring, condoning or participating in any sort of hazing.  Ever.

Memory

– Topher Endress

At first glance, it would seem nothing is as intimate as one’s memory.  Private scenes playing in your head, often so real you can nearly taste them, hear them, feel them, with words not doing the feelings and pictures justice.  How could anyone else have the same memories that you do?  Despite this, I contend that memories are not the beacon of individuality that one might expect.

Instead, memory is a social institution. We have collective memories – sharing major experiences like 9/11 in our lifetimes, Pearl Harbor in our grandparents’, the release of the ipod, landing on the moon, the Challenger disaster, Hummel’s block against Wisky my freshman year (that was a world event in my eyes), etc. Moving away from global or national perspectives, we still have regionalist memories like earthquakes, winning sports teams (’07 Colts, baby!) and other highly-talked about events.  Group dynamics need historical components, or shared memories, to connect the current with the past and to allow the future to be connected as well.  We do not live in a bubble.  We are inherently effected by what goes one around us, and what has gone on before us.  As such, we need to know what those who have come before have done and how it changed them.  One of my most clear memories of Chartering weekend was listing to Dave Wozniak shares stories of sharing life with his brothers post-college, mostly because I know that those experiences are shaping our chapter today.  It is important to hear both the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ from older men if we are to learn about where we are right now.

Of course, if we are to learn important lessons from those who have come before us, by logical extension we should share our own stories of who we were and who we are, individually and communally. We should be telling stories of why we joined Phi Tau and what it gave us.  Otherwise, the past stops impacting the present and cannot shape the future.  The new guys, younger guys, older guys and alumni all deserve to have a space in this storie-sharing cycle.  If we want Lambda to flourish, it will come from being able to transmit the knowledge of the past onto the present and applying it to the future.

What kind of stories can you share with the men around you?  What do those stories tell them about who you are and what you believe in?  What do your stories tell others about your experience in Phi Tau, and what do they make them think about the organization?

Poignant

– Topher Endress

I normally don’t read short stories, but I found myself reading some Jack London today at work.  That led to a general search around the internet, and I came away with this super short story.  I don’t really know how I feel about it, other than I think it’s both really good and really depressing.  I just wanted to share it with someone, and I feel like maybe there are some brothers who wind up enjoying this:

“The old man sighed. The tall stack of the factory was churning out acrid, black smoke, in vast quantity, blotting out the sky and casting a twinge of oppressed grey into the clouds. Not much longer, and he would be like one of those clouds, too painted by to coal-ash to remember what a clean whiteness looked like. For 40 years he had been working; he was fifty-three and very nearly dead. His body was wearing thin, the sickly thin of sinewy muscles failing to remember to lift themselves up. His mind wandered. Coughing, he wondered if it was that his mind was too old to work, or if he simply lost interest in thinking. His son was by his bed, unsure of what to say. The old man shook his head, trying to recall what name he had given the boy. It didn’t matter. Not anymore. Nothing really mattered, save for the clouds. From his window, all he could see were the grey skies and the stack. Hidden from view was the muddy brown and white ground, watered by snow and ice but with no hope of growing. The son sighed back.

Laughing, he playfully peeled her hands off of his eyes. She wanted him to be surprised by the lavish picnic she had prepared, but he anticipated just such a thing from her. Her curly blonde head bobbed, feigning anger. They laughed until their lips met, her bright red lipstick smudging slightly across his face. The cherry tarts would be only half as sweet. He paused not for reflection, but just to stare into her eyes and absorb the fun. Still in the moment, they began to eat.

He shivered. If only, he thought. If only what? he wondered. The son tapped his foot impatiently. No pity filled his heart. The old man couldn’t remember why the young man was there. Didn’t he have a son? Nevermind, sons are only as good as their fathers, and what did he ever do to teach? Already sick by the boy’s 10th birthday, not of the body but of the soul, physically a man but inside the hollow of a spent stack. He would be fortunate to spew acrid smoke once more. He chose to die. He frankly did not care much for living and hadn’t for some time. The son suffered without knowing. Having never grown up with a living father meant he had to grow up instantly, all at once, from earliest memory to now, living as if he were seventy and wearied by life, caring not for ideals but for rest. Where was the father to teach that life was grand or nice? No father like that was ever known to either man. Lying did not come hard to the old man, though it never suited him.

She gaily sand along to the radio. He grimaced. Her voice lost power, words coming softer and less believable. She involuntarily shuddered. He hadn’t been promoted in years. She was as bright as ever, blonde hair bouncing with each bump in the road, curls flying like honey bees in a hive, rosy cheeks slightly draining when the hills dipped too fast. He silently cursed the poor construction of the streets. She could not touch him anymore. He was a new man, entirely stuck in a single moment while the world continued on. She stopped singing as a lump rose in her throat. This stranger in the car was frightening and the smell of death too much to conceal with happy melodies.

The son looked at his watch. He wanted to say something but thought better of it. Besides, who would care, he thought. The old man looked dead.

There were no fights. No stormed beaches, no shattered plates, no anger. He was a slow fade. It was if he reached his full life but God didn’t see it to let him die off. He was only meant to be there for a short while, not for the waning years. She found nothing to hate in him until she died and found he had died years before her. The factory kept spewing its black smoke. The clouds hadn’t been white in years. The birth of their son brought nothing.

The son did not care for the old man. He heard rumors of the past, of a time when the old man was young and alive, when he was able to work towards something, when life held a promise to grab. Lies, thought the son. The old man looked at the stack, wondering what it would be like to be smoke. He would have asked to be cremated, but he did not speak. He moved for no one. His life was over long ago. The son never lived. The funeral was short.”

The themes of callousness and the allegory of losing momentum equating to death really stuck out to me.  The sentence in the last paragraph where the son can’t fathom his father as ever really being alive frankly scared me.

Don Quixote

– Topher Endress

Last night, someone asked me to name some of my favorite books. As I was explaining why I like each of these books, I got to thinking about book number 3: Don Quixote. The basic narrative follow the man so enraptured by old stories of chivalry that he refashions his entire world, casting himself as a brave knight standing against the forces of darkness (who are often simple, confused townsfolk). The novel is amazing for several reasons, but I think that’s the reason I enjoy it so much is that it point out two very important truths.

As a general rule, men want to both belong to something larger than themselves and to matter enough to make a difference. The Man de la Mancha didn’t just fantasize about being a knight. Being a knight had meaning. There was a senseof of shared values and shared practices. Knights from all over Western Europe had a code of ethics that they practiced. When someone saw a knight, they knew something about them – it was a community, a culture, an ideal that bound them all together. Don Quixote is in part a story about a longing to belong, not just among men, but to something larger than oneself.

It isn’t enough simply to belong, though. Once a part of the group, men look to have roles that are important. Not only do we need work, we need to know that we matter. Quixote needed to rescue the beautiful Dulcinea, infusing purpose into his role. Goals are important; without them we tend to drift aimlessly through life, not putting forth the amount of effort we are capable of. Devoting himself totally to his cause, within the context of knighthood, allowed Don Quixote to satisfy two of man’s largest needs.

Recruitment is both important and necessary. As Lambda Chapter, you owe it to the men on campus to provide a space for them to be important and a context to do it in. The best way you can attract Men of Character is to show your brotherly love for each other very obviously and to display how being in community allows you to impact your world more powerfully; act these out in front if recruits and the ones you want will be drawn to you.  Those that care about partying and social rank will see that Phi Kappa Tau is honest and committed and will not look to stay. But the men who are introspective enough to realize these two great truths will see Phi Kappa Tau, Lambda Chapter, as a space to both pursue life’s great motivators and to learn from them.