Cowboy Logic

Cowboy Logic
2011 RI Convention – New Orleans
Well, there’s that cowboy song again! And you will hear it again tonight during Michael Martin Murphey’s performance. Then as a Rotary theme song, it probably will fade into Rotary history to be known only to the members of the Rotary Global History Fellowship, who studiously preserve the records of our Rotary heritage. Hopefully, the fellowship leaders will place the song on their website, so I can listen to it occasionally!

But Cowboy Logic is more than a song. It also is the simple wisdom of the words that call on us to do our best in everything we undertake. The message of the song is reinforced by the book entitled Cowboy Ethics in which Jim Owens has distilled the famous, but unwritten, Code of the West into 10 principles, which are well aligned with our Four Way Test.

And the words of the song are further enhanced by some of the humorous, but meaningful, quotations in the Texas Bix Bender book called A Cowboy’s Guide to Life, which includes the well known title of Don’t Squat with Your Spurs On!

So what is it about Cowboy Logic that is applicable to Rotary? The members of the two Rotary clubs in my small city of Kirksville know that I am not a real cowboy. However, I spent my early years on the farm, and I have retained my love of the land and the animals. And I have learned that all around the world there is a common bond of the people who tend the land and raise the animals. It requires an ability to work alone with only the sky above, and it fosters a simple approach to life in order to do what has to be done. It creates a “can do” attitude and a willingness to help one’s neighbors. And it is that combination of values that give rise to the Spirit of Rotary, which has been the hallmark of our great organization for more than 100 years!

When I joined Rotary 50 years ago, I often heard the slogan “Keep Rotary Simple”, which was part of past RI president Gian Paolo Lang’s theme in 1956-57. But I have not heard that phrase in recent years, and my use of Cowboy Logic has been to test the practices of what we do in Rotary and how we do it. We are such creatures of habit in Rotary because we change officers every year, and the easiest thing to do for a single year is to do what was done last year. Yet we know that society is constantly changing around us. None of us are operating our businesses or professions in the same way that we did 20 to 30 years ago, but we are content to keep our Rotary clubs the same while the world moves on. As the cowboys say, “If you keep on doing what you been doing, you’ll keep on getting what you got!” And for those of us in Rotary, it means that our membership is not growing in the positive way that it did for several decades before the 1990s.

We need to take a simple and straightforward look at our practices at all levels of Rotary and to analyze which ones are merely traditions that should be replaced by new and more modern concepts. That is Cowboy Logic, or common sense, whichever you prefer to call it. The RI board has taken that approach this year, and it has worked well. We eliminated several committees, and we did not ask other committees to meet. As a result, we saved a substantial amount of money, and we escaped the burden of processing so many committee reports. An even more a significant result was that the RI board was able to concentrate on some big picture items and to do some serious brainstorming about major improvements.

I won’t try to list many of the improvements for you this afternoon, because the convention is drawing to a close, and then it will be party time in New Orleans this evening. Therefore, I will limit the number of major items that have been addressed by the RI board. The first is a move to provide regional assistance for districts and clubs through the new Rotary Coordinators, and the even newer Rotary Public Image Coordinators, to work with the well established Regional Rotary Foundation Coordinators, commonly known as RRFCs. The second is the development of a more productive relationship with the Rotarian Action Groups, commonly known as RAGS. The third is an improved approach to move toward a more uniform size of Rotary districts. And the fourth is a plan to improve the process for selecting and training district governors and to better utilize the service opportunities for past district governors. All of these, along with a proper implementation of the RI Strategic Plan, will have lasting benefits for Rotary.

Given my bias, I think this year has been a good year for Rotary as we have worked to Build Communities and Bridge Continents. Certainly the displays and the atmosphere at this convention have reinforced my preliminary assessment. Although we do not yet have the final results for the Presidential Citation program, I am pleased to report that at least six districts had more than 90% of their clubs qualify for the citation, and another 19 districts had more than 80% of their clubs to earn the citation. Of course, the real test of whether our clubs have become Bigger, Better, and Bolder will have to wait for a few years. But at least, we are now talking about the need, and the outstanding potential, for our clubs to become Bigger, Better, and Bolder!

We have so much to be proud of as Rotarians. There has never been a more exciting time to be Rotarians as we approach the end of polio and as we anticipate the favorable publicity that Rotary will receive for its three decades of work and commitment. Our community service projects around the world are estimated to provide local investments of more than a billion US dollars every year, and our youth and young adult programs are the best in the world. And our Rotary Foundation continues to gain strength as it assists our clubs and districts with international service projects.

Our new strategic plan for RI is an excellent example of simplicity and clarity. The three priorities are to support and strengthen our clubs, to focus and increase our humanitarian service, and to enhance our public image and awareness. And the RI board is actively implementing the plan in a variety of ways, including several pilot projects to permit clubs to experiment with new methods to strengthen their clubs. If the new methods work well, they will be submitted to the next Council on Legislation for approval in 2013. If they don’t work well, they can be scrapped in favor of still better ideas to come from our clubs in the future, because Rotary is truly, -- and proudly, -- a grass roots organization!

One more achievement for the current Rotary year is the highly successful search for a new general secretary to replace Ed Futa, who is retiring this year after 11 years of service as the chief administrative officer for Rotary. The international search produced more than 400 candidates for the position, and it resulted in the employment of John Hewko. John’s employment as the new general secretary was probably the most important decision made by the RI board this year, and I am pleased to advise you that the decision was made by a truly unanimous vote. John’s leadership will be critical as we complete the polio eradication campaign and then take advantage of the favorable attention that will be focused on Rotary!

What a thrill it is to stand here and recite the outstanding work of Rotary around the world. This convention has proven once more that Rotary is a premier organization, which has maintained its core values of fellowship, service, diversity, integrity, and leadership, while changing to comply with societal changes. No wonder the students at Northwestern University in Evanston, as part of a class project, undertook a study of Rotary and then concluded that “Rotary is a worldwide network of inspired individuals who translate their passions into relevant social causes to change lives in communities”.

The student’s summary is a great tribute to Rotary, so let me repeat it. “Rotary is a worldwide network of inspired individuals who translate their passions into relevant social causes to change lives in communities”. No wonder the RI board has adopted that modern, but simple, statement as the Core Essence of Rotary. To me, that makes good sense! In fact, it is a clear case of Cowboy Logic!

The End

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