Your place in Rotary

Your place in Rotary

One of the early Rotary clubs had a shy young member who has since risen high in his profession and in Rotary. He likes to tell about the horror he felt when the president of the club assigned him as a speaker at the weekly meeting. An incident in relation to his work which he had described at the luncheon table suggested that he might be able to provide an interesting program.

The young man protested when he was asked, and on the eve of his assignment invented a trip out of town to avoid speaking. Some weeks later, however, another speaker failed to appear and the club president called for the promised talk.

Almost numb with fear, he arose to speak. And then his interest in the subject and the realization that he was among friends took hold of him. He spoke freely, naturally, enjoyably—even to himself. Today, he still remembers with gratitude that his Rotary membership imposed this assignment. Without it, he believes, his professional advancement would have been inhibited.

This man is typical of those persons—and there are thousands of them—who have found in Rotary the ideal setting for developing their capacity for leadership. In a meeting of past district governors, one of them said: “All of us around this table know that we shall never be able to give to Rotary as much as we have received from it.” Every head nodded enthusiastic assent.

These were men who had given generously of their time and talent—and without remuneration—to the cause of Rotary and who, the more they gave, the more they received.

The new man in Rotary has much to learn, much to understand before he becomes fully effective as a Rotarian. But he was chosen in the belief that he possessed the requisite qualities, and that he would quickly find his starting place. The club will provide the proper and fa­vorable setting. There is a well-ordered procedure to acquaint new members with the broad facets of Rotary so that they may find their particular niche. Thus, in many clubs an individual may begin his Rotary career on the “badge board,” distributing luncheon badges so he may learn the names of his fellow-Rotarians and begin the process of acquaintance in the shortest possible time. Rotary is based upon acquaintance—fellowship—and the opportunities this acquaintance provides for personal service.

Committee assignments carry this process forward. The new member works closely with older Rotarians—the most natural setting in which to learn Rotary functions—and thus absorbs more about the purposes and operations of his club. The informal discussions of a committee session, as one new member put it, “really gave me the ‘feel’ of how Rotarians work together to take decisions. It made me feel I ‘belonged,’ especially when I was asked for my opinion and was drawn into the discussion as a full-fledged member.”

This feeling of “belonging” also makes the new member aware of his responsibilities to Rotary, and Rotary’s responsibilities to him. The member, by virtue of his membership in such an organization, is expected to look for opportunities to serve; it is one of the obligations he accepts. Through daily contacts with the life of the com­munity, through contacts with Rotarians at the weekly meetings and elsewhere, through programs and Rotary literature—such as The Rotarian magazine—the new member constantly widens the scope of his knowledge. Each contact is an opportunity for re-examination of older concepts or for the opening of new horizons.

The club simultaneously undertakes responsibilities toward the new member—responsibilities for informing him on the operations of the club, on Rotary International, and on various other matters grading between the strictly local and the broadly universal. In brief, the club’s responsibility is to put the knowledge to work.

First and foremost, all members have the responsibility for regular attendance at weekly meetings. If for any reason a member is unable to attend his own club, he is expected to attend the meeting of another club in either the six days preceding, on the day of the meeting, or the six days succeeding his own club’s meeting day. Failure to attend for four consecutive weeks automatically terminates membership unless the individual has been excused by his club’s board of directors.

This is not just an odd requirement of Rotary. It is practical and is based on years of experience. No club can operate efficiently without the full participation of its membership in regularly scheduled gatherings, and this is particularly true of Rotary. Non-attendance is a triple handicap: the club itself fails to receive benefit of the member’s ideas and experiences; second, the individual is deprived of the fellowship, the give-and-take, the compan­ionship, the broader horizons that result from contact with like-minded men; and, third, the classification held by the absentee is not represented at the meeting. A club that aims at being a cross section of the business and professional community fails of its goal by the number of its habitual absentees and the number of unfilled classifications. A member who aims at being a good Rotarian generally succeeds in direct proportion to his attendance – and participation.

It is not without significance that the emblem of Rotary is the gear-wheel. Mechanically speaking, the loss of a single cog of a gear impairs efficiency by introducing slippage at a given point on the rim; lose enough cogs, and the wheel will cease to do useful work. It is as simple as that.

The individual member has another responsibility: to serve his club in all its endeavors, and the club has the complementary responsibility—to see that he is given opportunity to serve. It is understood in Rotary that when a member is offered an assignment by his club, he accepts it willingly and dispatches it with energy. It is this responsibility in Rotary which may cause the leading men of the community to do things far removed from their normal activity so that there will be funds to help the crippled children of the community or pay for a scholarship for a deserving student. Men who work at a desk all day may take pick and shovel and rake on Saturday to level off the playground or park development undertaken by their club. More often, however, the service may be individual service—service motivated through other channels, but accepted enthusiastically because the man is a Rotarian. An illustration makes this pattern clear. A Rotary club had a program at its weekly meeting on Scouting—a full and inspiring description of the Scout movement in that community and its relationship to Scouting in other parts of the world. The speaker closed with an appeal for more adult leaders and sponsors, explaining the significance of competent leadership.

This Rotarian was moved by what he heard—as many others were—and this man determined that he would volunteer his services as an adult leader. As a Rotarian and as a serving citizen of his community, he could do no less. Could he do any more? Yes, he could; he belonged to an­other organization in the community, and, at its next meeting, he stood up to advocate that this organization do what his Rotary club had already done a long time ago— sponsor a Boy Scout troop. It was done.

Both the fellowship and the service of Rotary have strong chain reaction characteristics. In thousands of instances these acts of service span the oceans and jungles, reaching across national and geographical boundaries. Take, for example, the story of Alec MacPhail and Eric Schultz.

Alec MacPhail, a member of the Rotary Club of Johan­nesburg, South Africa, first met Eric Schultz when the latter was a patient in the hospital. Schultz, a husky young miner, had been in a serious motorcycle accident and had lost both arms and both legs. Because of slow progress in learning how to use artificial limbs he was, at the time his path crossed MacPhail’s, in a state of extreme mental depression. He felt society had no further use for him, that ahead stretched only the grim future of a helpless, quadruple amputee.

Schultz impressed MacPhail. Gradually MacPhail convinced the young man that the future was not as black as it seemed, that something could be done for him, that he could do something for himself, and that society still could use him. Information was procured on the latest in prosthetic devices, particularly on a system devised to treat American war veterans. The apparent road block was that treatment and training facilities were across the broad Atlantic and across the United States, in California.

MacPhail presented the matter to his Rotary club. The money was raised to pay Schultz’s traveling expenses to the United States, and for specialized training at the University of California in Los Angeles.

As Schultz winged his way across the world, an Amsterdam Rotarian met him and entertained him until plane time. In New York, another Rotarian, who had reserved both a hotel and a hospital room, canceled both and took Schultz home with him. Upon arriving in Los Angeles, the traveler was met by still another Rotarian who took him along to a Rotary meeting. A month after Eric’s admission to the University of California, he received new arms; after five months training, he had become almost completely independent of outside help. He made such progress in the use of his four artificial limbs that the doctors in charge suggested he demonstrate his new skills in Washington to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the United States Congress. Shortly after he did so, a million-dollar appropriation for further research into artificial limbs was passed; Eric demonstrated mastery of his new limbs to the extent of offering a cigarette to a friend—and lighting it for him!

A letter he wrote home after arriving in the United States expresses a fundamental truth and helps the Rotarian see his organization in inspiring perspective. Schultz wrote, “It was only after this long trip that I began to appreciate what a huge organization Rotary is and how small it has made the world.”

That, in brief, is the story of a young man who once thought life had cast him aside. It also is the story of Alec MacPhail and the Rotarians of Johannesburg and the place they occupy in the service-above-self world of Rotary. In the broader sense, it is the story of all Rotary: a need apprehended, a need met through local and worldwide co-operation.

The world-famous Dr. Albert Schweitzer who has achieved greatness as clergyman, author, physician, musician, and humanitarian summed it up once. Accepting honorary membership from the Rotary Club of Colmar, France—which was made the occasion for a substantial club donation to Dr. Schweitzer’s work in Africa—he said: “I feel that I am in a sympathetic group. I feel that I am among men who sincerely desire to give our civilization more spiritualite, a deepening of thought and of human ideals, and a will to save the world from ruin. I am, therefore, one of you, and I believe in your great and splendid goal.”

None of what has been said should be taken to mean that Rotary is a crusading army marching off to save the world; nothing of the sort would be possible under its organization. Neither is it a collection of back-slappers and gladhanders. It is composed of many kinds of men – some more fully imbued with zeal than others. But all members, at one time or another, manage to progress toward their ideals while having a good deal of plain, wholesome fun. Some of this is from programming, some of it is the quiet satisfaction of a job well done. Some of it is in the fellowship of the weekly meeting or other Rotary gatherings. Some of it is in the common effort toward a common goal. Taken together, it spells R-O-T-A-R-Y.