In the middle of formal recruitment my freshman year, I called home. I wanted to get the heck out. Fuming on the phone to my family that sororities were just an arbitrary social construct prone to the cultivation of facades, my dad interrupted me: “And is there anything wrong with that?”
I didn’t get the heck out. I stayed. I pledged Kappa. And I have spent the last three and a half years trying to figure out an answer to that question: Is there anything wrong with that?
We throw the buzz words of authenticity, sincerity, and vulnerability around like they’re the be-all-end-all of social interaction. Nobody can argue that there is a place for them. But we can also agree that answering everyone who asks “How are you?” along the lines of “Well, I am 43 percent OK, 26 percent overwhelmed, 10 percent annoyed at my English professor, and 21 percent hungry,” would be ridiculous and best saved for your best friend or significant other, if that.
This is an absurd exaggeration of a hard reality; in the professional world, limiting your relationships to the real and raw is not an option. Sometimes, choosing not to associate with certain people is not an option. Upon graduation, most of us will be confronted with incompetent colleagues and abrasive bosses. In suburbia, we will interact with curt teachers, rude neighbors, and soccer moms who make us want to swear like sailors. We cannot merely avoid these relationships — instead, we must navigate them, treating others with friendliness when possible, with deference when required, and with courtesy always. Good manners are nonnegotiable.
Last month, an interviewer for medical school asked me an unexpected question: Who would be your worst nightmare patient? She chuckled at my answer, saying, “You’ll meet a lot of that kind of patient.” The details of my response are unimportant. What matters is that regardless of whether someone is my particular Achilles’ heel, I will still have to treat them well. This is not about feigning sincerity. This is about recognizing that the world requires us to fake it; we must often speak and coexist respectfully with people who really, really tick us off.
What does this have to do with the Greek system? The Greek system has been the best microcosm of this reality that I have seen during undergrad. I don’t think any Greek would tell you that interacting with their house is all rainbows and butterflies. But it is precisely because it is not rainbows and butterflies that it is worthwhile. If you stick it out, you will be perpetually provided with opportunities to meet, work (and fight) with students who you never would otherwise — who study different subjects, spend their weekends in different ways, and resolve conflict by different principles. With this comes the chance to open your mind to other perspectives and to learn to compromise. Being Greek is not about faking authenticity. It is about giving unexpected relationships a chance, about giving those relationships another chance, about giving them a third. How else would I have become friends with a wicked-smart economist or forged mutual respect with a confident cheerleader?
And if you practice it for long enough, you get better at it, building habits serviceable for life after Hillsdale.
So the next time you’re tempted to fling “fake” at someone in a sorority or a fraternity or even about to direct that adjective as an insult at the system in general, I would challenge you to think about whether it is inherently a bad thing.
I have been asking that question for three and a half years, and I am inclined to say it is not.
Senior Maria Grinis is a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma.