What Rotary is

What Rotary is

The reconstruction period following the second world war saw Rotarians and Rotary clubs all over the world contributing generously to relief activities. They sent clothing, books, food packages, and many other things to people living in war-devastated areas.

The recipient of one such package wrote a “thank-you” note to the donor he had never seen. After expressing grati­tude for the relief from extreme circumstances, he asked, “Are you by any chance a member of a club that believes ‘he profits most who serves best’?”

This concept, in many different forms, is at the root of any definition of Rotary. Ask any member in any com­munity the question: “What does Rotary mean to your community?” and you will get a variety of answers. One may say, “Rotary has helped to make our community a more friendly place in which to live.”

Another may reply, “It has helped obliterate community factions by providing a common meeting ground.”

Still another: “It has strengthened our civic organiza­tions through its facility for unselfish co-operation.”

A fourth: “Rotary in my town has provided training ground for constructive leadership—an invaluable asset to any community.”

And one more: “I feel that Rotary has linked my city with other cities and towns all over the world. With so many friends in so many places, life seems sweeter and more enjoyable—and safer.”

In other words, Rotary is many things to many people. Technically, Rotary is an organization of local clubs unified through a larger grouping called “Rotary International.” The individual—the heart of Rotary—is a member of the local club; the club is the member of Rotary International.

Technically, too, a Rotary club is an association of representative business and professional men of the commu­nity who have accepted the ideal of service as the real basis for attaining success and happiness in personal, business, and community life. And the ideal of service? In general, it is an attitude that relates persons and things with action—constructive action; thoughtfulness of others is the basis of this service, and helpfulness to others is its expression.

Rotary also has been called “an ideal in action” and “friendship organized.” Translated into deed, it is thoughtful action, quick response to need, and the giving of the most valuable possession of any man—himself. In the beginning, Rotary came from a lonely man’s hunger for friendship and fellowship. The first meeting of “Rotarians” was held in the name of acquaintance, but that acquaintance was designed to lead to increased business for each man. The meaning of Rotary, however, grew as the men grew, and the new organization expanded and deepened its challenge. Rotary became a spirit of service which men took into the market place, or into the office, or to whatever point they struggled to create order where there had been chaos, beauty where there had been ugliness, and fellowship where there had been loneliness and misunderstanding.

At no point in its development have men been able to say: “This is Rotary. This is the place where we can stop, and the world can move on.” For the world does move on, and Rotary moves with the men who move the world. More than 30 years after Rotary’s beginning, when lesser men might have thought in terms of solidifying the stream of progress, Paul Harris, the founder, wrote: “This is a changing world; we must be prepared to change with it. The story of Rotary will have to be written again and again.”

The story’s setting has been more than half of the terrible and magnificent twentieth century, the century when man probed the atom and found there the power to destroy himself. It is the century of more material progress than in all the rest of man’s time put together. It is the century in which man pushed back the frontiers of Outer Space while at the same moment he was confounded by the gaps of mis­understanding and selfishness within the “inner space” of mankind. In spite of this lag, however, it is the century in which individualism ascended to a very high place, a century in which increasing numbers of men found ways to fulfill a sense of personal success.

Out of such a social context came Rotary. And Rotarians have been so deeply concerned with the deeper meaning of what they have created that they have pondered it and debated it in convention. A part of one resolution, adopted many years ago, is appropriate here for the light it sheds on the definition of Rotary:

. . . Fundamentally, Rotary undertakes to reconcile the ever present conflict between the desire to profit for oneself and the duty and consequent impulse to serve others. This philosophy is the philosophy of service—’service above self— and is based on the practical ethical principle that ‘he profits most who serves best.’

Primarily a Rotary club is a group of representative business and professional men who . . . have accepted the Rotary philosophy of service and are seeking: first, to study collectively the theory of service as the true basis of success and happiness in business and in life; and second, to give, collectively, practical demonstrations of it to themselves and their community; and third, each as an individual, to translate its theory into practice in his business and in his everyday life; and fourth, individually and collectively, by active precept and example, to stimulate its acceptance both in theory and practice by all non-Rotarians as well as by all Rotarians . . .

Because he who serves must act, Rotary is not merely a state of mind, nor Rotary philosophy merely subjective, but must translate itself into objective activity; and the individual Rotarian and the Rotary club must put the theory of service into practice . . .

He who serves must act . . . for service is not a state of mind—as necessary as is the proper state of mind. Voluntary service implies freedom, to act, too. Amidst gathering war clouds in 1940, the international convention at Havana, Cuba, adopted a resolution which said, in part: “. . . Rotary is based on the ideal of service, and where freedom, justice, truth, sanctity of the pledged word, and respect for human rights do not exist, Rotary can not live, nor its ideal prevail.”

Rotary is not a substitute for any other organization; it flourishes only where other free institutions are strong. The ideal of service is put into practice by each Rotarian who, as a resolution of another convention put it, is “a loyal member” of his church or religion and “a loyal and serving citizen of his own country.”

What is Rotary?

It is the experience of men of different faiths and different opinions and different nationalities growing in fellowship wherever they may be. It is men discovering their responsibilities toward one another and finding them­selves in purposeful action.

Rotary may be—and is—a man in Australia pondering the destruction of uncontrolled water and initiating a pro­gram to conserve the precious soil. It may be—and is—a school for underprivileged children in Sao Paulo, Brazil; a hospital in Indiana, U.S.A., where children can go to repair the ravages of the great child cripplers. It may be— and is—a school for deaf and mute children on the island of Cyprus. It may be—and is—a remote village in India struggling upward with the help of its “foster parents,” a Rotary club. It may be—and is—a Rotary-sponsored student wending his way from his home to a university across the seas.

Many men have tried to define Rotary, but Sir Harry Lauder, the famous Scottish folksong- and ballad-singer, drew a picture definition with words:

I have always likened Rotary to a light, and it is a great thing to have a light—a beacon.—in front. I remember once I traveled all through one dreary Sunday, and when in the gloamin’ of the evening, sitting at the window of my hotel, I saw a lamplighter come down the darkening street, sticking his pole in the lamps as he passed, and I thought: “He is doing a great thing—he is lighting up the way so that the wayfarer may walk without falling.” That lamplighter re­minded me of the light of Rotary. Encourage your sons to be Rotarians, because some day you will pass off the road of Rotary—and it will be a good thing to know that you left your sons to follow the light of Rotary, and to follow it with enthusiasm.

By the very nature of Rotary, every Rotarian writes his own definition; the “story” of Rotary to which its founder referred is rewritten every time a new member is welcomed into a club and every time a new Rotary club is formed. No two Rotarians are alike, no two communities are alike—but the pattern of service is always cut from the cloth of thoughtfulness of and helpfulness to others.

For example, the Australian Rotarian mentioned previously had frequent professional contacts with farmers in his community. As he observed the farms, he could see the beginning of soil erosion. He could see the rivers which once ran clear carrying a heavy load of silt—rich soil washed off the upper reaches when the plows stripped off natural cover. He could see gullies forming in the wake of recurring floods.

This Rotarian took his special knowledge—and his concern—to his club. The club, in turn, embarked upon a project of making a motion picture about soil conservation—a film to be promoted for public showing.

It would not be accurate to say that this one thing reversed the process of erosion in Australia. The problem remains, but a man and his club, armed with specific knowledge, initiated constructive action which has importance far beyond the confines of a single region, since conserving the soil is one of the basic concerns of mankind.

Rotary helps to make a man sensitive to need; it impels him to bring his special knowledge and experience to the task and, above all, to act—alone, if he can, or in company with his fellow men if this is the better way. The Rotarian himself gives immediate and concrete meaning to “service above self” and “he profits most who serves best.” The compilers of dictionaries do not build the meaning of such mottoes; nor do they dictate that Rotary should be known as a “service” club. These concepts are made meaningful by men of action, their action defining the words.