The Company You Keep
By Leigh Perry, Upsilon Lambda (University of Texas-San Antonio), Rituals, Traditions, and Jewelry Committee
Sometimes the Founders’ disagreed. Sometimes they didn’t speak to each other. Sometimes they didn’t even want to be in the same room together.
In some of the photographs of Conventions that hang in the Headquarters building, Stella and Bess are turned away from each other and leaning as far apart as possible. Jessie is missing in several because she was off starting other organizations or running for Congress. No matter what happened personally or in the world around them, they always persevered. Their love for one another, the glowing ruby heart stone, that strong foundation on which our entire organization is built, always pulled them back.
Stella shared with us, “Because you are our future, we want you to remember, without lapse in all the years to come, the reasons for our founding and that those reasons are basically differences.” These differences were with other groups and also differences among themselves.
There were already other women’s fraternities on campus at Barnard. Stella said there were then as there is now in Greek organizations, a tendency to focus on “frippery and silly conformity”. The only way to find the kind of group they wanted was to create it. Thankfully they did and we have AOII. “We insisted on life-long devotion to ourselves and to our best visions and to unified services to the world.”
Sometimes being devoted to each other means holding each other’s best visions even when they aren’t “feeling it.” It also means valuing each other’s differences: Left brain Helen, with her meticulous lawyer’s mind; flamboyant Stella, from the Deep South earning a living in advertising when few women worked; Jessie with her staunch sense of righteousness, working daily to change the world; and Bess, with her conscientious nature and sweet-tempered tolerance, always allowing for human frailties and acceptance.
They valued each other.
They championed each other.
More importantly, they respected each other and themselves.
They made each other better.
Renowned businessman and personal development guru, Jim Rohn once said, “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.” Together the Founders developed guidelines and recommendations for us on how to live our lives and created our Ritual. In it, they encouraged us not to measure our sisters, but to measure ourselves, and to be gentle with ourselves as we do so.
Their example reminds us never to underestimate the importance of the company you keep. We all need people who will challenge us and make us better. Be that person for others and remember: the people around you matter.