How do you help members, at all levels, understand the importance of living the values in ways that match the intentions of the founders and the chapter? How do you reinforce the positive behaviors while holding people accountable for behaviors that violate the values of the organization? In other words, how do you help your members understand the importance of congruence?
Values centered-organizations would be nothing without their values placed central in the vision, mission, actions and behaviors of their members. And yet a value is something personal, something internal, often layered and a challenge to define. I have often told students that people don’t know our values until we say or do something – and only then do we know what someone believes. The challenge, for fraternities and sororities, is to ensure that educating members on how to live these values is central to member education – and not just for new members.
So how do you help members, at all levels, understand the importance of living the values in ways that match the intentions of the founders and the chapter? In other words, how do you help your members understand the importance of congruence?
The Social Change Model
The Social Change Model defines Congruence as “thinking, feeling, and behaving with consistency, genuineness, authenticity, and honesty towards others.” The key terms are consistency, genuineness and authenticity, and honesty. Independently, one can live our values with consistency but without genuineness and honesty, it lacks the personal connection. Or one can live values with honesty, but without consistency the values are not part of our personal and daily experience and may only show up in times of crisis or when things are going just fine.
Congruent persons are those whose actions are consistent with their most deeply-held beliefs and convictions. Clearly, personal congruence and consciousness of self are interdependent.
In order to make “thinking, feeling, and behaving with consistency, genuineness, authenticity, and honesty towards others” understood among your chapter members, it may be important to help define some of the behaviors that constitute behaviors and actions that reflect outcomes expected by the chapter. For instance, if your fraternity values behaviors that “better the man,” what actions or behaviors reflect this value, or conversely what actions or behaviors do NOT reflect this value.
Tell Them What to Do, Not What NOT to Do
Most fraternities and sororities spend a great deal of time during the new member education process re-iterating the second part of that statement – what DOESN’T reflect the values in the chapter. But I believe that leadership is a reflection of our values, and this constitutes understand how and we do do, rather than what we don’t do, helps people understand who we are in the inside. Imagine telling someone that because you don’t cheat, steal, murder or take candy from babies that they should know you believe in agape love or that you value building strong leaders in your community. And yet, many chapters begin with lessons on what people shouldn’t be doing as a reflection of chapter values.
I certainly am not advocating that chapters stop educating members on destructive behaviors but rather that there should be equal time given to helping members understand the nuance of living a life of values congruence. What actions and behaviors reflect the organization’s values when you’re a new member? When you’re a sophomore or junior leader? A senior preparing for graduation? An alumni member wanting to be a mentor or guide? How do you reinforce the positive behaviors while holding people accountable for behaviors that violate the values of the organization?
Let’s Start at the Beginning: Congruence is…
One way to begin the process of integrating values congruence is to actually talk about this in chapter meetings. It seems like a strange way to begin the process, but imagine what would happen if you actually re-read your chapter ritual other times than during initiation ceremonies. You would have a deeper, richer understanding of the values set by your founders and would reflect on them personally rather than educating your newest members trying to take in the entire ceremony.
Using a clear and realistic view of the college life at your campus, you can begin to look at what behaviors best demonstrate your values – what does agape love look like with non-members? What ways do you build strong leaders in your community that aren’t in your chapter or even on your campus? Again, people know and understand our values by what they witness, so if you only demonstrate your values to each other, how will non-members understand the value of your organization on your campus or in your community?
People Believe What They See Increasing
Whenever chapter leaders bemoan the negative press that often follows fraternities and sororities, I ask pointedly “In what ways has your chapter involved anyone outside of the Greek community in your chapter’s values?” These values are not private – often they are publicized on websites and printed materials, too! And yet, we don’t speak of them often, and invite people to witness them even more infrequently.
The reason the negative behaviors get the press is that no one expects you to violate your own sworn values – being congruent with your values is not news! Realistically, the best way to sway the public’s opinions about fraternity and sorority life is to personally invite people to watch us live our values on a daily basis and point out what our values in in ways that matter to the community.
Values congruence is a challenge for all chapters, because it asks people to reflect on their personal behaviors and actions as a reflection of others. And it’s tough, which is why fraternal organizations are not for everyone. But for everyone who has made the choice, it is important for chapter leaders to speak about congruence in ways that spark positive emotion rather than negative ‘you shouldn’t’ behavior.
I can guarantee you that you chapter founders likely had more conversations about the behaviors that make for a positive role model of the chapter than defining negative behaviors one should avoid.