Monday, January 29, 2007

Sig Ep is All About People and Relationships

2006 was a difficult year for La Familia Calderon. I lost my father on September 1st and my best friend (and our brother) Humberto Hurtado on December 3rd. I also lost another chapter brother in March 2006 (Marc Caniglia) and we lost a volunteer that we should all look up to (John Hofmann from Cal Gamma). In between, I tried and won a lawsuit, dealt with family issues, and attempted to keep track of the goings on at Cal Upsilon (where I am Chapter Counselor). All told, 2006 was quite a roller coaster ride.

Humberto was only 41 years old when he passed. He and I were “contemporaries” at Cal Mu (Cal Poly Pomona). The brothers of Cal Mu have an extremely tight bond. Much of it is the result of the fact that we come from similar backgrounds and most of us planted roots in the same community as our alma mater. Sig Ep was not a four-year experience for us. It always has, and continues to be, a “lifetime experience”. Since our collective graduation in the late Eighties, my Cal Mu brethren and I have had all sorts of shared life experiences. We have experienced marriage (and a couple of divorces - none of them mine thankfully) together, fatherhood together, careers (and career changes) together, and now we are getting old enough to experience loss together.

I am not talking about the loss of money or the loss of a job, or the loss of some material object that can be replaced. I am talking about the loss of a loved one, the loss of a brother, the loss of a friend, the loss of a relationship, the loss of the best man at your wedding. The loss of something that no one, not even the richest amongst us, can bring back. Without Sig Ep, I would have never have met Humberto, and I would never have had this relationship (and so many others) to look back on and cherish.

I have been an active Sig Ep volunteer for the last 13 years. I spent 5 great years as the Chapter Counselor at my home chapter and 6 of the best years of my life as the District Governor in Southern California. It has been 2 years since I stepped down as DG (like many of you I needed a break and I needed some time to focus on other things that are near and dear in my life) and I have had plenty of time to reflect on what I did right, what I did wrong, and everything in between.

One of the things I have learned is that I would never have been such an active and committed volunteer if it were not the lifetime of experiences I have shared with my Cal Mu brothers and others on my journey. I have learned, first hand, why “brotherly love” is our most important cardinal principle.

Another thing I have learned is that the only things that really matter in Sig Ep, and in life, are the relationships we build. The people who we touch, the people who touch us, and the people we choose to share our journey with. The ones we take for granted each and every day. This fraternity is about people first and foremost. It is about people before it is about rituals, secrets, programming, or anything else for that matter. We spend way too much time, money and effort putting the cart (rituals, secrets, programming, modules, everything else) before the horse (people).

Without good people at its’ foundation, Sig Ep will ultimately go the way of the dinosaur. And trust me, there are many people out there, who don’t understand the true nature of our bonds, who can’t wait for that to happen. I run into them every day in offices, in courtrooms, and in other places where I volunteer (places that are direct competitors for our time, money and attention).

U.G. Dubach had it right when he said, “you can’t carve rotten wood”. I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by some great timber. There are plenty of undiscovered redwoods (both undergraduate and alumni) in and out of the Sig Ep forest. The eternal questions involve finding them and getting them to buy into that intangible and all-powerful thing we call “brotherhood”.

Our undergraduates do not have a crystal ball. They are unable to tell recruits and others about the full extent of the impact that Sig Ep could upon their lives. Our alumni are a different story. Many of them can testify to the impact of Sig Ep upon their lives. It all starts with an outstretched hand, a phone call, and a reason to get someone involved. And there is no substitute for “face-to-face” contact. Relationship building (and maintenance) is hard and time-consuming work that often involves the swallowing of some pride and does not always bear immediate fruit.

You can’t get someone to buy into the “program” until they buy into the person. We need to help our undergraduates, alumni and volunteers build better and more long lasting relationships. Start by making the fraternity itself more accessible and more user friendly. Empower undergraduates, alumni and friends with the knowledge that they can make a difference in someone’s lives. Make CLAs more accessible by placing them near airports in major markets. Make Conclave more affordable by letting members pick and choose what they want to attend. Don’t be afraid of the “social” aspect of our fraternity (it is good to see that there will be an alumni social at the West Coast CLA). Make people feel welcome. Give people the opportunity to build relationships to impact their lives and the lives of others.

Anyway, those are some of my thoughts and ideas. I would like to hear yours. With CLAs and Conclave coming, the time is right to start discussing how we can make our fraternity the best it can be. The best place to start is by building relationships.