Building Heroes

Building heroes In “Beyond Hazing,” you read that hazing teaches people behaviors that will hinder them from making significant contributions in others’ lives. When our founders were imagining the organizations that became fraternities and sororities, they were creating organizations whose purposes were to transform ordinary men and women into people who would change the world. Is your chapter ready to continue their legacy? Read on.

What does it mean to be a hero?

Almost everybody can name a hero, whether it is somebody who had a significant impact on you personally, somebody who has made a significant impact on the world, or even a fictional character who exemplifies heroic qualities. Some of you may now be thinking of a mother, father, coach, teacher, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., a former president of the United States, a religious leader, or Batman and Spider-Man. What do heroes have in common?

According to Zeno Franco and Philip Zimbardo’s The Banality of Heroism (2006-07), heroes:

  • Work to preserve ideal/value or life
  • Confront an actual or anticipated risk/sacrifice
  • Engage actively (fight) or passively (resistance)
  • Engage in an one-time act or on-going

In the context of fraternities and sororities, heroism is what lies at the far right side of the continuum – it is the ultimate realization of our organizations’ purposes. It is going way beyond the minimum expectations, to the place our founders wanted us as lifelong members to go. In other words, if we give every single member what we promise to give them, we are preparing them to be our generation’s heroes.

Hazing ---------- | ---------- Not hazing ---------- | ---------- Heroism

When you look back at the greatest heroes of the 19th and 20th centuries, do you think it is a coincidence that so many of them are affiliated with fraternities and sororities? Of course not. Those heroes embraced their personal values and their organizations’ purposes, and made it their life’s work to preserve or pursue those ideals and values.

In your chapter, how can you move toward the far right side of the continuum. In hazing or unhealthy organizations, people are taught to blindly follow a group of leaders, to not stand up for their values, and to not rock the boat. In heroic organizations, people are taught to (Franco & Zimbardo, 2006-07):

  • Question what is, what could be – to ask: How does this fit with my chapter’s and my personal values
  • Stand up for beliefs/values – to ask: What does it say about me if I stand up against behavior or ideas that do not fit my personal values? What does it say about me if I do nothing?
  • Be grounded in who they are – to ask: What would my mother, father, coach, teacher, etc. think of me if they knew what I was doing or thinking right now? What would my future employer, colleagues, neighbors, etc. think of me if they knew what I was doing or thinking right now?
  • Lead the way (don't wait for others) – to know that by standing up, you may be giving others the strength to follow your lead
  • Sacrifice short-term for long-term successes – to know that anything worth something is worth standing up for

The greatest gift that we can give the newest members of our organizations is the gift of preparing them to be our generation’s best leaders, its best servants, and its best heroes. Indeed, it also is the greatest gift we can give back to our organizations, and ourselves.

Franco, Z. & Zimbardo, P. (2006-07, Fall/Winter). The banality of heroism. Greater Good, 30-35.