January 31, 2013

On Friendship

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So we’re just putting the cap on the second week of classes, and I’d say the spring semester is well on its way. For a certain group on campus though, this has been your third week back in Ithaca. I’m sure you all know which early arrivals I am referring to.

Now, this group gets lots and lots of press ­­— some of it truly good, but most of it definitely bad. They hold a special week each year, and during this week, Cornellians decide whether they will participate wholeheartedly or avoid these well-intentioned activities. It’s time we address some of the controversies surrounding these folks.

I am referring to those in our campus’ notorious Greek system, which has recently undergone tons of changes. But something that hasn’t changed, and will not change, is brotherhood and sisterhood (the latter is a pretty foreign concept to me, so I’ll stick to brotherhood).

Please, the 70 percent of you who are not in the Greek system, do not stop reading. The concept of brotherhood found within Greek houses can be used to shed light on universal truths regarding friendship, comfort and trust. Brotherhood, that unconditional support you will find in joining a house, should mean more than just friendship. For many of you freshmen, that is precisely why you joined a house in the first place (granted, the dying bar scene and lack of alternative drinking outlets could have been a factor).

Greek houses are organizations comprised of real people who impose implicit (and sometimes explicit) social pressure on one another in order to adhere to a norm of thoughts and conduct expected by all members. This organization will likely expect you to receive your fraternity brothers as your best friends and to define friendship by its standards.

For many of you, friendship will be defined by your fraternal brotherhood, but for many more, the friendship you share with your brothers will define what brotherhood means to you — fraternity brothers will become real brothers. You will be asked to give yourself over to the house, to commit time, energy, love and even faith.

But the new member education process is when this social pressure is most palpable. Some of this pressure will allow you to grow in ways you never thought possible. But there is a fine line between unselfish generosity to something larger than oneself and blind commitment to a group. New members are told, “This marks the beginning of a journey, of a new chapter in your life, of the future lifelong bonds you will make and break here at Cornell.” It might be truthful and sincere, but this is pressure nonetheless.

Know this: No one gets to tell you who is and is not your brother. You have your own personal barometer for defining brotherhood. Like so many before you, if you sell yourself to your organization, you may find the greatest friends you have ever found — but you may also be selling yourself short.

The exclusivity of brotherhood is illusory. You do not need a fraternity or ritual experience to find brotherhood. By allowing fraternal friendship in whatever form to dictate what friendship means to you, you take a risk in losing sight of your own personal definition.

Before coming to Cornell, I sure as hell never thought of my friends back home as my brothers. They were friends — some better than others — but still friends. My fraternity may have introduced me to the concept of brotherhood, but they don’t own it.

I own my brotherhood. Who I get to call my brother is my choice.

My true brothers are those whom I have selected and who have selected me. We have given pieces of ourselves to one another, shared vulnerabilities and reciprocated acts of kindness. They earned my trust as I earned theirs. I know what values they hold, and I know that they seek a deep, interpersonal connection.

When we’re done here and out in the “real world,” and we don’t have our social organizations to fall back on, who will we have to turn to for acceptance? If we don’t have the confidence to identify friendship and brotherhood for ourselves, we may never really find it. College is the time to develop that ability to discern the shallow from the meaningful, truth from illusion — to challenge ourselves to consider those big questions of life.

Fraternal brotherhood has introduced me to new frameworks of friendship and has helped me begin the pursuit of answers to those questions. It is a family I can always return to, but it’s only the beginning. The lessons my house has taught me about brotherhood have enabled me to find true brothers both in and out of the fraternity.

So gimme a try; I’m always looking for some more.

Rudy Gerson is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached a rgerson@cornellsun.com. Rooting Around column runs alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Rudy Gerson