Applying David Brooks to the Fraternity

Holmes Murphy, 2023-24 Diamond Alliance Partner

By Dr. Lori Hart, Director of Educational Initiatives, Holmes Murphy Fraternal Practice

I grew up in the “values based” and “live your ritual” season of fraternity and sorority.  We talked about morals, being good people, we were always wearing our letters (even when we weren’t).

David Brooks was busy last fall writing about the human experience. I offer some of his insights below because digging into this work has made me wonder if “we” are getting it right with our curriculum, training, expectations, etc. and how we could take this premise, philosophy and utilize it to better fraternity.  I also believe the work that he talks about will and can lead to harm reduction, safer experiences, and reduced claims.

Mr. Brooks’ October 19, 2023, NYT Op Ed, The Essential Skills for Being Human, made me pause and think. 

People need social skills. The real process of, say, building a friendship or creating a community involves performing a series of small, concrete actions well: being curious about other people; disagreeing without poisoning relationships; revealing vulnerability at an appropriate pace; being a good listener; knowing how to ask for and offer forgiveness; knowing how to host a gathering where everyone feels embraced; knowing how to see things from another’s point of view.

Source: Opinion | How to be Human – The New York Times (

How America Got Mean, popped up as a top 10 Atlantic article published in September 2023. Here are some nuggets I pulled. 

“Moral communities are fragile things, hard to build and easy to destroy,” the psychologist Jonathan Haidt writes in The Righteous Mind. When you are raised in a culture without ethical structure, you become internally fragile. You have no moral compass to give you direction, no permanent ideals to which you can swear ultimate allegiance. 

Moral renewal won’t come until we have leaders who are explicit, loud, and credible about both sets of goals. Here’s how we’re growing financially, but also here’s how we’re learning to treat one another with consideration and respect; here’s how we’re going to forgo some financial returns in order to better serve our higher mission.

Healthy moral ecologies don’t just happen. They have to be seeded and tended by people who think and talk in moral terms, who try to model and inculcate moral behavior, who understand that we have to build moral communities because on our own, we are all selfish and flawed. Moral formation is best when it’s humble. It means giving people the skills and habits that will help them be considerate to others in the complex situations of life. It means helping people behave in ways that make other people feel included, seen, and respected. 

Source: Why Americans Are So Awful to One Another – The Atlantic

His book “How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen” was released October 2023. 

David Brooks wants to create a society where people are seen and can be seen and that sounds like what we want for fraternal organizations as well.  This is the fabric of our work, or it should be. Human relations are hard, but skills can be taught. 

“There is one skill that lies at the heart of any healthy person, family, school, community organization, or society: the ability to see someone else deeply and make them feel seen—to accurately know another person, to let them feel valued, heard, and understood.”

Source: How to Know a Person by David Brooks: 9780593230060 | Books

How can we apply the work of David Brooks to fraternity? Don’t just focus on compliance, focus on creating experiences that lead to commitment.  The human commitment.

New member programs should not be content on a PowerPoint, they should be about opportunities to create open dialogue and shared experiences. Are the programs currently built to place relationship development at the core?

Make sure what you do and ask of members is connecting to the organization to its values, thus providing a moral compass for members.

Create expectations and education where Mentor/Mentee relationships provide a platform for personal and professional growth, guidance, and support. Steps to Develop Peer Mentor and Mentee Program (

Seek out, train, support and retain advisors who capture the philosophy of David Brooks.  As you all know, a successful chapter usually has a good volunteer guiding. And from my experience, the common factor of a good advisor is they are in relationship with the members.

The basics of philanthropy, ritual, brotherhood, safety should be constant in the work that is done.

The Medici Effect’s Frans Johansson suggests that all new ideas are a combination of old ideas. So, as you think big, brainstorm, and try to crack the nut on brotherhood and social connections, don’t miss the opportunity to pull those old ideas out and discuss how you came to love fraternity. My guess you will quickly starting talking about relationships and the heart of the things we should be focused on.