“If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” — Dr. Abraham Maslow

Fraternities and sororities have problems. I recently had the opportunity to be the closing keynote at The Association of Fraternal Leadership & Values Conference. This is the largest student gathering of undergraduate sorority and fraternity men and women, with more than 3,600 attendees. I asked the attendees to simply double clap their hands if they believed “we” have problems, and I heard a THUNDER of noise in that room. If we can start with honesty and being on the same page in life, we can move mountains.

I’ve been blessed to speak on stages for decades, and during this keynote, I put my “hammer” down and approached the topic differently. I’m pleased to share my insights with the Holmes Murphy community.

I’m not sure if Dr. Abraham Maslow was in a fraternity during his undergraduate collegiate years at City College of New York, Cornell University, or University of Wisconsin (yes, he transferred four times to three universities in order to receive his bachelor’s degree); however, he has a lot to teach us about fraternity and sorority and brotherhood and sisterhood. If you have taken a PSY 101 course, you may vaguely remember this name or you might even recognize his “Hierarchy of Needs” even if you don’t recall his name.

Proposed in 1943, Dr. Maslow believed this to be a psychological theory of a five-tier model of human needs. Essentially, you have to have the foundation of basic physiological needs met (mostly) as your most important need. Makes sense in 2018 — our most basic of needs are to breathe, eat, sleep, etc.

Once we have met the minimum, we move to safety. This is our need to be secure. It seems pretty basic, but until we have faith and trust we’ll be safe, we don’t move to love/belonging. Now, this is what we’re “selling” in the world of fraternity and sorority. We market this as “brotherhood” and “sisterhood.”  So, here’s the simple truth. Until we keep new and current members SAFE, they’ll never experience our product of real brotherhood and sisterhood. Forget the esteem and self-actualization…we’re just trying to get to love and belonging because that’s what we’re “selling.”

Safety comes in many forms in this world of fraternity and sorority. Safety in words and how we speak to people. Safety on social media…both Instagram and the “Finsta.” Safety in the GroupMe, group texts, what we say to new members, and what we say about other organizations, about ethnicity, religion, and people of the opposite sex. Safety in our expectations of new members at 6 a.m. or 2 a.m. or anytime in between. Safety to know you won’t physically assault a person. Safety to know when you ask me to come to the house, I can go in the basement without a line up, a flashlight in my face, people yelling at me, or being asked to do physical exercise to the point it harms a person. Safety to know that if perhaps someone passes out or fall down stairs, you will call 911 versus stepping over the person or waiting for them to “sleep it off.” Safety in being in a fraternity house as a woman and knowing you won’t be assaulted. Safety in the new member process so there isn’t a paper process and then the hazing process so someone can be a “real” member.

At the end of the day, if the true goal of fraternity and sorority is brotherhood and sisterhood, then to achieve this, it’s time for every single chapter and every single individual to ask this: “Are we doing our best to create communities that are safe?” Dr. Maslow would simply tell us, until we achieve safety, we’ll never achieve our true goal of love and belonging.

Perhaps it’s time for us to put the “hammer” down and start thinking differently.