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Exploring the Social Contract Surrounding Brotherhood

April 11, 2011

We’ve explored many different types of social contracts thus far in this course, so I wanted to take this opportunity to explore a unique social contract that I have recently had a very personal experience with. As you may have guessed from the title, I’m talking about brotherhood, but more specifically, the strange and yet awesome phenomenon known as pledging.



Pictured : Pledging.

Yes pledging. The process by which a potential member of the fraternity tests his relationship with the brothers of the fraternity and fraternity life in general. They are instructed in the general teachings of their fraternity, the history, practices, values, and develop a strong bond with their pledge brothers. If everything works out the fraternity accepts new brothers and the pledges, now brothers, form strong bonds that will last a lifetime. Naturally, there are two different social contracts that one enters he is accepted as a pledge. The first is, obviously, what I will refer to as the “Pledge Contract”, the period where one is a pledge. The second is what I will call the “Brother Contract” where, as you have probably guessed, the pledge becomes a brother for life. What are the differences between these two and where does one end and the other begin? Lets explore this a bit.

Pledging has been described to me quite accurately as, “The most fun you never want to have again!” Why is this? Doesn’t the pledge process transform one into a brother? What could be wrong with that?


... oh god ...

It is no secret fraternities get a bad rap for hazing. I’m sure we’ve all heard at least one horrible story about a pledge having to do something either extremely grotesque, embarrassing, or homosexual. If haven’t you can join the kitten up there and search hazing and you’ll get a good idea of what comes to mind when people hear about hazing (make sure to turn the safe search off for all the goodies). The first question that usually comes to people’s minds is, “Why the hell would you join an organization that treats you like crap before accepting you?” Lets try to answer that.

But first a disclaimer. I won’t reveal my pledge process but I can assure readers that I was NOT hazed. I was not subject to any of the wonderful treatments of the above Google search. There were certain tasks I had to perform for brothers during the pledge process that I will no longer HAVE to do as a brother but I was not hazed. Clear? Good.

Back to the question at hand, even if I wasn’t hazed why would I or anyone else go through a process where I have to do things that I normally wouldn’t do? There are many answers to this but the most popular is that the process builds brotherhood. From personal experience I can honestly say that the process does accomplish this more than anything else. Brotherhood is built, especially between the brothers of the same pledge class. You spend a HUGE amount of time with your pledge brothers and you do get to know them very well. There are many opportunities where you must work together to accomplish a task that one of you alone could not accomplish. No matter what the task is, whether it be something fun or something that you honestly don’t want to do (for example, cleaning the fraternity bathroom after some drunk jackass puked in the urinal) and by working together you accomplish something and can be proud of that fact. This does not change once you become a brother. In fact, the need for all brothers of a fraternity to work together only increases after initiation because it takes a LOT of work to run a successful fraternity. It takes much more than one brother to plan a party or event just as it takes way more than one brother to clean the house. In a way, it is training to build those bonds that will make the fraternity succeed in the future. A pledge may not understand this the first, second or even third week of pledging, but by the end all pledges do realize that pledging builds those bonds.

One example that I will give from my pledge process is a project myself and my brothers had to complete for the fraternity. Every pledge class must give a gift back to the fraternity and we decided to build a bar for our house. No one brother can [easily] build a bar, but by working together we were able to build a very nice and sturdy bar that the entire fraternity can use long after we graduate. This project alone helped build a strong cooperative relationship between the members of my pledge class and between us and the brothers of the fraternity. We built something that greatly improved the fraternity and is a small example of what brothers can accomplish if they put their minds to it. Now, when a brother runs up to me and says, “Lets build a gazebo outside so we can watch TV outside without bugs flying into our beers!” I don’t scoff at them and say, “That can’t be done.” Instead, we draw up those plans and get ready to build it over the summer.

Once a brother of the fraternity, you are allowed to know its secrets and have full influence over what your chapter does. A pledge has proved themselves to the fraternity and has developed strong bonds with many, if not all, members of the fraternity. There is a huge sense of pride when one makes the transition from a pledge to a brother because it is something that is worked for and earned.

Is this really any different from other social contracts in the world? When you first join a company do you automatically start at the top? Generally no, you start near the bottom. You do things that the bosses do not have to do and do not have access to all the privileges of your superiors. You are the one that does the filing, makes the coffee, runs the errands, and work the long hours. Your superiors have the experience to make decisions for the company, have you get lunch for them, and take Friday afternoons off to play golf. You have to work to get up to their level and generally you will make strong friendships along the way that will help you and the company prosper. The main difference between a scenario such as this and fraternity life is that in a job you get paid and in a fraternity you pay dues. But the rewards of a fraternity are better than a paycheck. Strong brotherhood, great social events, and the pride of working to make an organization better than when you came in are strong incentives to get past the pledge process and become a brother of a strong organization. I say that is a pretty sweet reward.


Unfortunately, the beer still sucks.

  1. Stephan Sakhai permalink
    April 11, 2011 10:29 PM

    Great post. Thinking about pledging the same way you compared it to starting a new job makes the memory of having to have pledged that much better. Come to think of it, when i hopefully a start a job at a bank or some large firm, i will be doing just that- pledging. Obviously, theres a difference, like you mentioned, money$, but still, in the end its all the same thing.

    Clever analogy and nice post.

  2. April 12, 2011 1:01 PM

    I agree with your thoughts here and I certainly love your blog! I’ve bookmarked it so that I can come back & read more in the future. Your post is very interesting. I’ve read your blog for few days now and I trully enjoy your blog. Thank you for your great work!

  3. Rebecca Birnbaum permalink
    April 12, 2011 4:55 PM

    I thought this was a great post and a creative approach to different social contracts. I think there are so many types of contracts because society is so hierarchical and it seems that most institutions are based on social mobility and working your way to the top. Respect has to be earned by doing whatever that particular institution considers to be “dirty work” – such as hazing for fraternities and getting coffee for CEOs. At some point, we all have to pay our dues if we want to advance.

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