Adventures in Rotary
When I was being officially welcomed into my Rotary club,” said one Rotarian, “the president made two points which have stayed with me: first, that my fellow Rotarians had chosen me—not in the sense of exclusiveness, but because they believed that I was the person to represent my business in Rotary; and, second, that I was beginning a new adventure in service—an adventure in the strict definition of the word: ‘a bold undertaking in which certain hazards and unforeseen developments’ were to be met.. .”
Is it an adventure? Yes, the experience and testimony of thousands of Rotarians say that it is—or can be.
If a new Rotarian has been properly oriented and if his club is alive to its obligations and opportunities, his membership is an adventure as rich in discovery as a voyage to a new land. He already knows the satisfaction of service, else he would not have been invited to join the organization which holds “service above self” as a prime goal, but new dimensions will be revealed as his fellowship deepens—within the community—and broadens—around the world —to include a far-flung group of like-minded men.
Such an adventure, as all adventures, poses certain hazards. But they come as a challenge to the Rotarian—a challenge to be a part of the answer to the problems of his community instead of part of the problem—a challenge to make thoughtfulness of and helpfulness to others a guide to more meaningful living.
Associating oneself with a Rotary club and, through that club, with Rotary International and its member clubs in nearly 150 countries and geographical regions is in itself an act imposing some “hazards and unforeseen developments.” They arise from the nature of the organization. Rotary is based upon the premise that there is a broad field of agreement between men of different beliefs and backgrounds. It is premised also upon the idea that action toward a common goal fuses differences into strong service.
This is not to say there are no differences of opinion within Rotary. There are many; they are, in fact, one of the sources of strength. In joining Rotary, the member accepts a method of doing things which emphasizes the positive and which seeks ways to make agreement effective and inclusive.
The backdrop against which this characteristic is outlined has several parts. One part is the classification principle, which makes the Rotary club a cross section of the city’s business and professional life. Each Rotarian represents his occupation, not only in the club but in the community at large. The resulting strength is the strength of difference, as a rug gains durability and beauty from the interweaving of many differing strands. It applies individual strength to group strength to gain something that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Another part is an active program of club projects serving both the club and the local community, the individual and the group; and, in the final analysis, the family of mankind itself. Nothing engenders agreement more than common work toward a common goal; joint effort creates a working fellowship that absorbs both minority and majority into unity.
A third follows naturally: the fellowship that under-girds all of Rotary—not the superficial, backslapping variety, but deeply sincere fellowship arising from commitment to simple but significant goals, from respect for each other”, and from common effort.
But there is a fourth part of this backdrop—the foundation stone upon which the whole edifice is built. Modified somewhat through the years—usually in the interests of greater clarity—its spirit has not changed. It is the object of Rotary:
The object of Rotary is to encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise and, in particular, to encourage and foster:
First. The development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service;
Second. High ethical standards in business and professions; the recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations; and the dignifying by each Rotarian of his occupation as an opportunity to serve society;
Third. The application of the ideal of service by every Rotarian to his personal, business, and community life;
Fourth. The advancement of international understanding, good will, and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional men united in the ideal of service.
The four parts of this object have given rise to many things; in one way or another they are behind everything a club or an individual does. They are, in essence, the navigation chart, the sailing directions for adventurers moving in the direction of new horizons—new horizons holding the promise of a neighborly world based upon the dignity and worth of every man.
Rotary is not an exclusive organization, but its membership is still measured in the thousands, and this fact boldly outlines the enormity of the task of transmitting the ideals and goals inherent in the object of Rotary to the places and people who need them most. Rotary claims no monopoly on the origin of these ideals and aspires least of all to their exclusive possession.
The object of Rotary, however, does pose a challenge in a unique way—a challenge so great that it inspired an eminent cleric to say: “. . . Rotary is an idea, an idea of ingenuous magnitude and . . . Paul Harris discovered, or, better still, re-discovered, something humanity has disregarded : the value of disinterested friendship as the most essential means of bringing together the servants of God, for their better understanding in this human life . . .”
Yes, Rotary itself began with one idea—and one man— but by its dynamic nature it has created thousands of ideas in thousands of men—men whose lives probably would not have been attuned to the frequency of creative service had it not been for the inspiration of membership and fellowship in their Rotary clubs.
In the words of one past president of Rotary International, “Rotary is, and must be, above all, a ‘forge of ideas’ —a forge where new ideas are born, wrought to be hammered into the shape of new, generous, and useful creations.” Every Rotary club, with its powerful centripetal force, brings to its circle the most capable and successful men—the most outstanding leaders from each useful and dignified activity in each community and, therefore, in the whole world. Logically, then, this group should bring forth significant ideas from its fellowship and discussion. It should always maintain the “forward look.”
No one has ever hinted that the object of Rotary prescribed an easy set of goals. It ranges the gamut of human relations from one’s outlook upon his own vocation through the complexities of social relationships to the most elusive goal of all—peace among men of differing nations.
In his message to Rotarians at the beginning of his term of office, one R. I. president challenged Rotarians to “Enlist for Action—Extend for Strength—Explore for Knowledge.” These imperatives put the matter succinctly; Rotarians are “enlisted”—they are committed, or re-committed, to the object of Rotary each time they pay their club dues; commitment to such ideals truly calls for “extension,” a calling forth of inner resources; all service is based on knowledge, and the “exploration” for opportunities to serve can never cease as long as a man is a Rotarian.
The adventurous Rotarian—the person who responds to the ideal of service with purposeful action—finds his reward, like the sailor who loves the sea, in the journey itself. One Rotarian who had rendered service far beyond the call of duty put it this way: “Trouble? Could you call something trouble which gave new meaning to your life? I would not think so.”
Another Rotarian translated the spirit of Rotary in dramatic and human terms with a personal experience. He and his wife were helping to dedicate a new wing in a children’s hospital in Mexico, the gift of the local Rotary club.
We were standing with our Rotary friends around the whirlpool bath, watching a small girl with very black skin and badly twisted legs valiantly trying to exercise. We of the audience represented a variety of racial and national origins, European, Asiatic, American, Latin. Standing there watching that child struggling to make her tiny twisted limbs obey her, we saw a smile break out over her face as the tiny drops of tears rolled over her dark cheeks. I know that every heart in that room was beating with the heart of that child, every muscle straining with hers and none of us made an effort to conceal our own tears. In that fleeting moment, we were as one . . .
Any Rotarian, no matter where he lives, can find a setting and a vehicle for his personal adventure in service.
He has only to put away his self-satisfaction, his complacency, his lack of self-confidence, his small faith in his fellow men—or whatever it may be that holds him back— and “dare to face the present” of his own community. The posture of Rotary is toward the future, true; but the present is first. The now is basic. Here is the place to begin. If all Rotarians, small though they be in number, would launch out boldly where they are, imagine what a difference it would make!
A past president of R. I., addressing an international convention, made a significant entry in the “logbook” for all adventurers in service when he said:
Rotary is indeed at work in the world, in a world which is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but fellowship. We are facing the latter years of the twentieth century. If we are to help shape the future, let us renew our efforts to make Rotary a living force in human relations, with each individual member vigorously at work, each club something more than an insignificant detail in a beautiful tapestry. There is yet time and one may yet hope to make this neither the century of the East nor the century of the West, nor the century of Capitalism, nor the century of Communism, but the century of every man.