As a novelist, a big part of my job is to ask questions about things that have happened in my life? To take the truth from my own personal experience and apply it to my craft of fiction. So when I wrote The Worthy, that’s exactly what I did.
See, when I was 18, I wanted more than anything to be in fraternity.
But to be honest, I didn't understand pledgeship. So when active members harassed me, I joked back. The meaner they were, the swifter my comebacks. As you can imagine, this didn’t go over so well.
So one dark October night, a burlap sack was put over my head and I was taken out into the tall piney woods of north Louisiana to be taught a lesson that only bloodied noses and busted lips could teach. When it was all said and done, I was dumped off at my dorm at around 3AM covered in mud and bruises and with a big question:
Why did they do this?
Why didn’t I fight back?
Why was I too embarrassed to tell anyone?
I eventually wrestled these "Whys" to the ground when I wrote The Worthy. But writing this novel, lead me to bigger "Whys?".
Like why does someone’s son die from hazing every Fall. One college student a year has died from hazing related circumstances since 1970. From a senseless acts. The most senseless part of all of this, is that someone else’s son, someone’s very smart, well-raised son will be responsible for this death, or at least just stand by in silence as it is going on.
Why is this?
Some folks will tell me that it’s just boys being boys. That accidents will happen. That these are traditions—as cruel as they may be that turn boys into men—sometimes great men. But great men, like so many American Presidents and CEOs, were great despite the tradition of hazing, not because of it. I can promise you that.
So I keep asking the question. Why?
Some people would have you believe that this is biology at play. Alpha males being alpha males. Too much testosterone. Pack behavior. That hazing is just some kind of Darwinian way of weeding out the weakest among us.
So do we feel comfortable giving that answer to the grieving parents of a pledge or rookie who just died? That’s the best we’ve got?
So I keep asking why, and when I do, two things are apparent:
1) Hazing is not biological. It’s cultural. It’s about our traditions. It’s about what we believe, the very ideas we all share about what it means to become a man. It’s that simple.
2) Hazing is a bellwether to a far greater challenge facing us—the fact that many of us are lacking a heroic imagination—that sudden inspiration to do the right thing when everyone else is asleep to it.
So how do we spark thia magination? How do we disrupt these worn-out traditions?
By asking "Why".
When something doesn’t sound right—ask, "Why". When "Why" pops into your head that is your soul calling—calling you to take action, to change things, to disrupt what is going on. So don’t ignore it.
If we are going to stop hazing, we have to ask "Why" out loud and often. We have to ask it until everyone acknowledges that our sons deserve traditions that are better than this. We have to ask it until everyone understands that becoming a man doesn’t require a lose of humanity.
Just the opposite: Becoming a man means understanding your connection to all of humanity.
Before our sons go to college, let’s teach them that they have a soul and with that comes the power to change the world. And with this soul also comes the responsibility to never ignore the question, "Why?".