Saturday, August 12, 2006

Collectors and Brothers and eBay, Oh My!

When a man's an empty kettle
He should be on his mettle
And yet I'm torn apart
Just because I'm presumin'
That I could be kind-a human
If I only had a heart.

Now that the bidding is over, Bro.Frost's Order of the Golden Heart medallion should be on its way to a place of honor. I think it may now be time to consider how to address the larger issue of what ultimately happens to symbolic items of the Fraternity after the recipient has gone.

The emails last week were zooming thick and fast with highly placed and not-so-highly placed members debating what could or should be done about the crass commercial offering of an item with such significance. One commenter noted the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, after some similar instances, now has a policy of retaining ownership of each "Oscar" so that a recipient cannot legally dispose of it. Another member, who is a well known in the "pin-head" collector circles, took the position that a collector will value such items for their rarity and beauty and at least assure they are not destroyed, but enjoyed by those who can appreciate them. One thing that I would hope we all agree on it that it is a loss if an OGH, or a Grand Pres. "Founder's" Pin, or even a member badge is destroyed or lost forever in a landfill.

With that in mind I added my own two-cents worth to the flurry of "what can we do" emails. I would like to share it here as a starting point for dissection, debate, and discussion. Lets think about how we value our fraternal culture and decide how the tokens of the fraternal experience should be dealt with.

Bro. Xxxxx,

That is an excellent point. You just know the Chapter would love to have it and would display it in a place of honor. First, though, you have to convince someone to pony up the cash to purchase it and donate it. I doubt the seller would take it off offer out of the goodness of his heart.

In the longer term, the Fraternity should set up some 'cultural guidelines' for proper disposition of items of significance such as OGH medals, or even pins for that matter. We could not make binding rules, but I would bet that a set of expectations or suggestions would be warmly received. My first thoughts on the matter (in no order other than as they pop into my head) would be:

  • Burial with the honored brother.
  • Pass along to family or close friends with ties to the fraternity. (esp. pins)
  • Donation to a chapter for a special award (pins)
  • Donation to the home chapter (medals)
  • Donation to Headquarters for the archives. (Although one commenter on S&P pointed out a problem with security there)

Another commenter noted that the "Oscars" are actually still "owned" by the Academy that presents them and suggested that might be a possibility. Sounds like a logistical problem, but one that could be addressed if we had the group will to do it.

The real question is one of culture. If the OGH is such a great honor why is it that the token of that honor appears in the marketplace? What does that say about how the honor is perceived? We may need a longer term effort to communicate final expectation. How indeed does - or should - one dispose of a lifetime of honors that are just "things" to children and other family?

As I said, those are some random ideas. There are probably others, and better ones too. Of course, the simple solution is that we do nothing and continue to grouse about "ain't it awful" every time we see something like this show up. I hope we can do better than that.

Right now there is an interest, or at least an awareness, within the fraternity leadership of an opportunity to, well, "Lead" in creating a cultural idea that honors are worth remembering and respecting. We may see a policy, a sample "what to do with my Sig Ep awards" form, or perhaps a resolution at the next Conclave that will speak to this issue.

You don't need to wait on HQ for guidance, though. If you have received an award that your chapter, or perhaps HQ would be proud to display as part of the historical archives then make sure your wishes are known. It is a simple matter to write a statement of intent and put it with your important papers. Two points to consider are 1) awards and tokens may have symbolic or inspirational value far beyond their mundane worth, and 2)it is incumbent on each of us to help our heirs and successors see that the awards and tokens are properly dealt with.

Give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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