By: Expansion Consultant Michael Lukins, Washington ’08

A friend of mine asked me a few weeks back, “How do you know that you haven’t changed a life today?” That’s stuck with me and has been rattling around in my head ever since. How are we to know if the conversation we are having or the good deed we are doing are having an impact on someone around us? Even the little things can have great impacts. The butterfly effect resonating around our world through billions of insignificant conversations, passing interactions, apathetic moments and careless actions.

Every single human being has the potential to change a life. Today.

DouglassI view Dwight Ireneus Douglass through this light. To say that the man was an enigma is an understatement. Born June 6th, 1884 Douglass was the oldest of the honored founders. He would graduate with a degree in chemistry just months after the Non-Fraternity Association was formed.

But on that cold March day in Miami’s Old Main Building, Douglass called a meeting to order at 1 p.m. and closed it within the hour.

That hour has changed my life.

That hour has changed your life.

That hour has changed the lives of more than 90,000 men who can call themselves members of Phi Kappa Tau.

That hour has changed the lives of some of those who have interacted with those 90,000 men.

That hour has changed the world.

A bold statement, I know. We all dream of changing the world somehow. As a politician, or as a great scientist, or as a humanitarian. What about as a great friend? What about as a wonderful father? What about as a man of character? Our smallest actions can change the world for one person, and that should be celebrated as well.

After World War I, Douglass disappeared. His last contact with the fraternity was a letter to Shideler from France in 1919. Not much is known about Douglass in his later life. We know he married Ruth Mathews and had a son, Donald. We know he wrote short stories under a pen name. We don’t know that pen name. I like to imagine when I pick up an old book of short stories that I’m reading something he wrote. I guess that’s another way he’s impacted my life.

Douglass died in February of 1940. The first of our founding fathers to pass into Chapter Eternal. 14 years later, Bernie Scott, Nebraska Wesleyan ’49, a Field Secretary for Phi Kappa Tau was visiting Austin, Texas when he learned that Douglass’ widow and son resided in San Marcos, a few miles to the south. He rode the bus down from Austin and paid a visit to both. Until that time, neither had known the honored role that Douglass played in our fraternity. Maybe even Douglass didn’t know how important he was…

I think that the people who are our role models rarely do know. Unless you tell them.

Who inspires you? Who drives you? Who gave you the gift of Phi Tau?

Thank them.

Let them know what they’ve done for you. Your dad. Your mom. Your professors. Your brothers. Is that conversation occasionally difficult? Yes. It is sometimes awkward? Yes. But could it change someone’s life? Hell yes.

And what more could we possible ask for?

Gentlemanly Pro Tip #3:
When you arrive at an interstate toll booth, pay the fare for the car behind you. Ditto for the fetching stranger at the coffee shop.