Tanaka unveiled the RI theme during the opening plenary session
of the 2012 International Assembly, a training event for
incoming Rotary district governors. "Peace, in all of the ways that we can understand it, is a real
goal and a realistic goal for Rotary," he said. "Peace is not
something that can only be achieved through agreements, by
governments, or through heroic struggles.
It is something that
we can find and that we can achieve, every day and in many
simple ways." Peace has different meanings for different people, Tanaka
said. "No definition is right, and no definition is wrong," he said.
"However we use the word, this is what peace means for us. "No matter how we use, or understand the word, Rotary can help
us to achieve it," he added.
Tanaka, a businessman from the greater Tokyo metropolitan area,
shared how becoming a Rotarian broadened his understanding of
the world. After joining the Rotary Club of Yashio, in 1975, he
said, he began to realize that his life's purpose was not to
make more money, but to be useful to other people. "I realized that by helping others, even in the simplest of
ways, I could help to build peace," Tanaka said.
He noted that the Japanese tradition of putting the needs of
society above the needs of the individual helped his country
rebuild after the tsunami and earthquake in March. "This is a lesson that I think the whole world can learn from,
in a positive way. When we see the needs of others as more
important than our own needs -- when we focus our energies on a
shared goal that is for the good of all -- this changes
everything," he said. "It changes our priorities in a completely
And it changes how we understand the idea of
peace." Tanaka will ask Rotarians to focus their energy on supporting
the three priorities of the RI
Strategic Plan, he said. He added that he will ask the incoming
leaders to promote three Rotary peace forums, to be held in
Hiroshima, Japan; Berlin; and Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. “In Rotary, our business is not profit. Our business is peace,”
he said. “Our reward is not financial, but the happiness and
satisfaction of seeing a better, more peaceful world, one that
we have achieved through our own efforts.”
Peace Through Service
It is a great honor to be here, standing before
all of you: our new district governors for the 2012-13 Rotary
Rotary has been at the center of my life for many
years. I did not know it at the time, but the day I joined
Rotary in 1975 was the day I set my first step on the path to a
Before I joined Rotary, my view of the
world was narrow. I was the fourth of eight children. We were
poor, and so was nearly everyone we knew. I had never met anyone
who was not Japanese.
Every week, I walked with my mother
20 kilometers to the market, to sell vegetables. This was as far
as I went, and as much as I saw of the world beyond my village.
I dreamed of travel. I dreamed of seeing other cities, other
countries. I wondered what they were like.
Since then, I
have traveled a great deal. I have seen more of the world than I
ever imagined. But nothing has broadened my vision as much as
the perspective I have gained through Rotary.
was a Rotarian, I saw only what was in front of me. I saw my
business, my family, my customers, and my competitors. When I
traveled, I saw only what I knew to look at.
But I did
not see beyond that. I did not look for context. I did not look
past what I believed was relevant to me.
One day, I was
asked to join the Rotary Club of Yashio. And it was two years
later that someone came and spoke to us about the idea of
vocational service. From that day, slowly, I began to change. I
realized that the purpose of my life was not just to earn more,
to sell more, to make my business better than anyone else’s. I
realized that I wanted to have better goals and higher goals —
both personally and professionally. I realized that for me, the
most important thing in life was being useful to other people.
And I realized that by helping others, even in the simplest
of ways, I could help to build peace.
We hear the word
peace every day. We hear it in the news, we use it in
conversation, and we talk about it a great deal in Rotary. But
most of us spend very little time thinking about what peace is,
and what that word means.
On its simplest level,
peace can be defined by what it is not. It is a state of no war,
no violence, and no fear. It means that you are not in danger of
hunger or persecution or the suffering of poverty.
can also define peace by what it is, and by what it can be.
Peace can mean freedom of thought and of speech, freedom of
opinion and of choice, and the ability for self-determination.
It can mean security, confidence in the future: a life and home
in a stable society.
On a more abstract level, peace can
mean a sense of happiness, of inner serenity, of calm.
The truth is that peace means different things to different
people. No definition is right, and no definition is wrong.
However we use the word, this is what peace means for us.
And however we use the word, however we understand peace,
Rotary can help us to achieve it.
Rotary helps us to meet
the basic needs of others: to provide health care, sanitation,
food, and education when and where it is most needed.
helps to meet the inner needs as well, for friendship,
connection, and caring.
And Rotary helps us to build
peace in its most traditional sense, by reducing the causes of
conflict. It builds bridges of friendship and tolerance among
people and nations. It helps us to understand each other.
Through our service, we learn that the problems that may
seem large to us are really very small. We learn empathy for
others. We come closer to people who seem very different from
us. And we begin to understand how alike we really are.
Through our Rotary service, we learn that cooperation is more
productive than conflict. We learn to value each other, as human
beings with human strengths and weaknesses. We learn that every
one of us has something to give, and every one has something to
To me, Service Above Self is more than just a
motto. It is a way of life — one that will make any life richer
and more meaningful.
Putting Service Above Self allows us
to focus our energies on what is truly important. We put the
common good above our own. We prioritize others’ needs over our
own desires. We think less about ourselves and more about what
is best for everyone. And in this way, we help to build the
foundation for a more peaceful world.
This is why, in
2012-13, our Rotary theme will be Peace Through Service.
Because however we define peace, whatever peace means to us, we
can bring it closer through service.
Self reminds us that none of us can live for ourselves alone. A
life lived in isolation is empty and without joy. But when we
live for others — when we focus on our role within our family,
our community, and all humanity — then we begin to realize our
own place in the world.
I am part of the first generation to
grow up in Japan after a terrible war. I think it is natural
that we now place a great priority on peace. We saw where
militarism brought our country. And we also saw the great
economic growth that came when our nation made the choice to
change our way of thinking, and to embrace peace.
was the decision that allowed Japan to grow and thrive. It
allowed new generations of children to grow up in safety, to
become educated, to improve their lives. It fundamentally
changed the Japanese attitude toward other countries and
It caused us to open our minds, to become more
tolerant, to seek greater understanding.
And it allowed
us to redirect our energies toward positive goals. In Japan, it
is traditional to prioritize the needs of the society over the
needs of the individual. This has always been part of our
culture. In the weeks and months following the great earthquake
and disaster of last March, this was what helped us to survive
This is a lesson that I think the whole
world can learn from, in a positive way. When we see the needs
of others as more important than our own needs — when we focus
our energies on a shared goal that is for the good of all — this
changes everything. It changes our perceptions. It changes how
we relate to the world. It changes our priorities in a
completely fundamental way.
And it changes how we
understand the idea of peace.
For me, the idea of Peace
Through Service does not involve any complicated philosophy. I
am not a philosopher. I am a salesman. And over many years of
business, I have learned that ultimately, the only way to a
successful business is happy customers. When my customers are
happy, my business grows. And this makes me happy in turn — not
only because my business is doing well, but because I am glad to
see that I have made others happy.
In business and in
life, in order to get where you want, you have to know where you
are going. In Rotary, we have made the decision to adopt the
goals and priorities of the RI Strategic Plan as the roadmap for
To support the implementation of the
strategic plan, RI will no longer have presidential emphases
that change every year. This decision will help us to have
greater continuity in our service, and achieve more significant
goals over the long term.
And so, in 2012-13, I will ask
you to focus the energies of your clubs on the three priorities
of the RI Strategic Plan: to support and strengthen clubs, to
focus and increase humanitarian service, and to enhance public
image and awareness.
I will ask you also to help
promote the three Rotary global peace forums that we will be
holding in Hiroshima, Berlin, and Honolulu. You will be learning
more about these important events during this assembly. I hope
that many of you will become involved and make it a priority to
In Rotary, our business is not profit. Our business
is peace. Our reward is not money, but the happiness and
satisfaction of seeing a better, more peaceful world — one that
we have achieved through our own efforts.
In this Rotary
year, I ask you to put Peace Through Service at the forefront of
your Rotary work.
And I ask you to understand that peace,
in all of the ways that we can understand it, is a real goal and
a realistic goal for Rotary. Peace is not something that can
only be achieved through treaties, by governments, or through
heroic struggles. It is something that we can find and that we
can achieve, every day and in many simple ways.
And so I
ask you all to commit to a Rotary year of Peace Through Service
— and a Rotary goal of a more peaceful world.