Sunday, April 8, 2012

Discussion on Hazing

A recent Rolling Stones article on hazing has triggered a long discussion over old dorm lists about hazing and fraternities. This was my two cents.

The Stanford prison study shows how this behavior is motivated by
humans' primal nature and response to power. That doesn't explain,
though, why it gets perpetuated in fraternities.

In some sense, hazing activities are like extreme (X-TREME) ice
breakers, which gets people to form a bond based on seeing each other
do and say ridiculous things. All relationship building activities
work because of humans' primal nature, and most of the time there is
nothing wrong with that since we're social animals and we like to hang
out and be part of a group.

Perhaps hazing makes the bond even stronger, and the upside of a
strong bond for the individuals is that there are people out there who
are absolutely loyal to them personally, perhaps even die for them.
The benefits are clear in a military setting. But in general, when
you are in a bind, financial or otherwise, only your family is really
obligated to help you even if you haven't been that nice to them.
Fraternities increase the number of family you have. This is also why
people often start businesses with fraternity people, really close
friends, or family. Since you need to people who will stick with it
even when things seem like they will never get better, it's usually
best to work with people who are extremely loyal to you personally.
In this sense, there is a role for nepotism. I have found that your
personal trustworthiness is your most valuable commodity in the
workplace. Although it can seem extremely stupid to keep incompetent
but loyal people around, there are situations where a stupid person
who will really try their best can be more helpful than a smart person
who is trying to figure out how to get the most credit from the least
amount of work. Obviously you are most valuable as a trustworthy
competent person. I would say that the closer you get to
entrepreneurship, the more primal things get and the more important
relationship dynamics are. In large companies, they have had time and
resources to standardize things and create processes, like for hiring.
That's what human resources are for. Hiring is a time consuming
process so all companies prefer to hire a more known entity. While it
would be great to only hire competent people, honestly it's really
hard to figure out who is really competent and who is good at talking
without working with them for a bit.

Anyway, I think that the primal nature of the professional world,
especially in high risk high reward situations perpetuates things like
hazing. What can we do about it? Find other ways to teach more
valuable skills for those situations without hazing maybe? Increase
the profile of professional networks of living groups to compete?
Make hiring easier for small companies? Get more colleges to require
freshmen to live the first year on campus so people forms bonds
outside their fraternities?