On arrival to college as a Freshman, I pledged a fraternity, and along with my pledge brothers, experienced an entire semester of old-school, Animal House-style hazing. It was brutal. Here’s a small example: one afternoon I was cleaning toilets at the fraternity house when two active brothers grabbed me and threw me up against the wall. Their names were Bo and Al. Bo screamed at me “punch Al in the face or I’ll black-ball you!” (Being black-balled meant that an active brother vetoed you becoming an active member.) Then Al screamed at me “if you punch me I’ll black-ball you!” As I stood there and did nothing they screamed more, shoved me and questioned my manhood. It was a classic Catch-22 with no good answer. I wanted to punch them both but didn’t — I just waited them out and they eventually left me alone, along with a promise by each of them that they’d black-ball me.
Anywho – stuff like that is what would happen on a typical day and more organized hazing occurred multiple times a week. Good times. But I made it through pledgeship and was initiated as an “active” brother.
Because I didn’t like being hazed, I never hazed pledges when I was an active. There were others who felt as I did and were anti-hazers. But most of my fraternity brothers hazed pledges with gusto. When I’d question them why they hazed our pledges even though they didn’t like it when it happened to them, the two most common responses where “it’s fun” and “I was hazed and now it’s my turn.” (A more accurate and self-reflective answer would have been: “I’m young, have too much testosterone, and my pre-frontal cortex is years away from being fully developed!)
These two opposing reactions to being hazed have stuck with me over the past 30+ years since I was a pledge and I’ve seen it play out similarly beyond fraternity life. In life some people respond to being treated poorly by using their poor treatment as motivation to treat people better than they were treated, while others become conditioned by the poor behavior and act just like their tormentors.
Other areas where this occur are parenting and work.
Parenting: A friend of mine was treated badly by his mother his entire childhood. She was constantly critical of him, ridiculed and insulted him, and made him feel like nothing he did was good enough. Now my friend is an amazing father. He’s warm, kind, loving, and supportive. Once when I commented on how supportive he is of his kids, he told me that he never wanted to make his kids feel like his mother made him feel. So, he used his poor treatment as motivation to be a better father. (BTW – this really is a friend. It’s not a disguised personal story – if anything my parents were too supportive and are to blame for my over-developed self-confidence.)
Work: Like with parenting and pledgeship, if we are treated bad by a boss it can condition us to act that way when we reach a position of authority, or it can do the opposite and teach us to be kinder. Working for a great boss can teach us valuable leadership skills but working for a horrible boss can teach us what not to do, which can also be powerful. Similarly, if you’ve ever worked as a waiter I bet you treat waiters well and leave good tips when you eat out having experienced yourself what it felt to be treated shabbily by customers. Similarly, I’ve worked as a volunteer making cold calls for various charitable organizations and that experience has taught me to be super nice to people when they cold call me because it is thankless work.
What to do: I’ve found that it is useful to pay attention to how you’re treated by others and consciously note it. Really reflect on it. If you are treated well, use that positive experience as motivation to pay it forward by treating others well. When you are treated poorly, try consciously noting that as well and deciding to act differently if you are ever in the same situation.
Check out this related IFOD: There are Two Types of People . . .