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Rotary's Power for World Peace
The Distance Sense
Paul Harris called it
“The Distance Sense.” The Rotarian Editor and Rotary General Secretary
Chesley Perry called it “The Secret of Looking at Life from the Proper
Perspective.” Regardless of what it was called, the article by Rotary
Founder and President Emeritus Paul P. Harris on page 47 of the February
1914 issue of The Rotarian was a clarion call for ethics in business
While there is no incontrovertible evidence that proves this Harris article was the forerunner of the “Rotary Code of Ethics,” Rotary did adopt the aforementioned “Code of Ethics” at the San Francisco convention in July of 1915, 17 months later. That code included eleven duties expected of all Rotarians.
|A GOOD deal has
been said and written of late with intent to awaken business men to a
sense of the supremacy of their position in the world's affairs and of
their corresponding responsibility to society.
I do not believe that there is any other organization on the face of the earth in a position to do so much for business and so much for the world through the realm of business as Rotary. The opportunity is simply transcendent and exists today; it did not exist yesterday. The world was not then ripe for the appreciation of a movement one of the chief ends of which would be to dignify and exalt hitherto ignored or perhaps even despised trade.
We must avail ourselves of our unique opportunity. The development of the philosophy and ethics of business has as yet but just begun. Rotary with all of its splendid equipment is in on the ground floor. Of all earthly things, good, practical ideas are still the most in demand. Money will erect university buildings and equipment but it takes ideas, new ideas, to practicalize educational curriculums to the point where students may become possessed of a reasonably accurate understanding of the principles essential to real success in life.
While we are occupying ourselves extensively in the development of a philosophy which will make service the order of the day and efficiency the standard up to which all trade must measure, perhaps there will still remain time for the development of a philosophy which will make life, itself, better worth living.
We are here on earth and we are here to stay during our respectively allotted periods. How much of happiness and how much of misery shall be our share remains with us almost entirely to determine. If we possess a modicum of reason, it will be apparent to us that it is the part of wisdom to cheerfully make the best of the situation and to harmonize our own lives with nature's inexorable laws. We are entitled to the maximum of happiness; and may we be sane enough to observe that the route to a life full of happiness does not lie in intemperate indulgence.
We need and the world needs an optimistic, rational philosophy of life.
Our noses are generally close to the grindstone. We don't take much time to think for ourselves. We either let other people do our thinking for us or take our rules of life as they were laid down by preceding generations, some of whom did think. Some of the rules are good for this age and some of them never have been good for any age, and still we take them cheerfully because they save us a great deal of trouble, thinking. They are our inheritance.
We have been taught, among other things, that there is a vast difference between sins of commission and sins of omission. It is true that there is a vast difference, but the difference is governed more by the laws of expediency than by the laws of morality. It would be shockingly immoral to kill a sick baby with a hammer and it would at the same time be expedient to punish the perpetrator of so dastardly an act; it would, in fact, be so very extra expedient in any part of the United States west of the Mississippi river, that the hammer man would probably not be able to get past the first telegraph pole.
The hammer route is really more humane than the starvation route; and is there really any great moral difference between the wielder of the hammer and our respected selves who are at times so absolutely indifferent to distress? Why, the price of that last bottle the other night—and that was the bottle that had the headache in it—could have saved a baby's life. Of course, it will be inexpedient to punish us for the morally criminal omission, because there would not be enough available telegraph poles nor men to handle (he hopes.)
It is time to kick off some of the traditions of the past and get down to the point of really thinking for ourselves. We need a philosophy of life, one that enters its unceasing protest against the all too prevalent belief that happiness is to be found in the mere accumulation of dollars or in the acquisition of power, a philosophy that teaches us that the seat of most of our troubles is just beneath our hats; that the really satisfying things in life are within the reach of most of us right now, and that they would be within the reach of all of us were it not for the fact that some of us have more than we can ever possibly use; that there is more net pleasure in reading "Little Dorrit" than there is in a joy ride, and that a joy ride may hurt while "Little Dorrit" never knew how to do anything in the world except help folks; that riches, as such, are almost certain to be a curse, almost never a blessing; that intemperance doesn't always mean drunkenness, that it may mean intensive acquisitiveness, and that one is about as dangerous as the other; that no man can stand more than about so much prosperity at any one time without being the worse for it; that adversity has made as many great men as abundance has ruined; that our sons are not materially different from other men's sons and that they are not immune from nature's laws; -
improvidence is a sin against infancy, old age, and society in general;
that the effects of intensive acquisitiveness are often much` worse than
the effects of prodigality; that the tenor of legislation ought be
toward the elimination of both; that it will be if public sentiment
favors such course; that public sentiment will favor such course as soon
as men will take time to stop and think; that it is our duty to jog our
respective memories on the subject; that when we succeed in our efforts
to gain an understanding of ourselves, we shall have little further need
of penal institutions; that a rational philosophy of life would enable
the American people to declare larger dividends of peace and contentment
than would the ownership of the U. S. Steel and the Standard Oil; that
white our brothers across the sea may be able to benefit themselves to
some extent through ideas gained from us, we on the other hand should
gain more from them as they are more philosophical, less temperamental
than we are; that philosophy is the science of cause and effect, the
very science of science, and that its scope is exceeded only by that of
Edison, the great discoverer of nature's laws, said that suffering from want of the necessities of life will not be known one hundred years hence. Thomas, you have been dreaming again, as usual; may your dream, as usual, come true. To Edison, poverty is too illogical, too absurd a thing to be permitted to exist in the days of reason which are to come. Great task, yes, so was the digging of the Panama Canal, but great men are manning the task. Rotary will want to be in at the death of old "King Want."
With all our outcry against the corruption of politics in this country—and it is deserved enough at times—there is an irresistible under current of pure, healthy, American statesmanship that is making constantly for better, for more rational things. It would be worth living for, just to see the development of the higher standard of citizenship, which must result there-from, and to see Edison's prediction come true.
Standing close to the Sistine Madonna one would see nothing but a hopeless confusion of meaningless colors. At a proper distance every touch of the brush has its meaning and the colors blend into the wonderful altogether that stands peerless throughout time.
There is nothing on earth more uninteresting than a fog, but if you will hang your fog in the sky and play the sun's rays upon it, a dazzling golden cloud will be the result.
Distance lends its enchantment,
Perspective gives us distance sense.
Life, too, has its perspective. The pleasure of the night before will have become greatly subdued before the dawn of the morning after; the insufferable chagrin and pain of yesterday is endurable today. This is simply another form of distance or time sense.
If we all had enough distance sense we would be very different in many respects from our present selves. We would place a much higher valuation on some things than we do now, and a much lower valuation on others. We would know beyond any possible doubt that a simple home in which contentment dwells is infinitely preferable to a palace full of luxuries but without peace.
Your own particular trouble is about the most colossal thing in life to you today. It occupies the entire discernible arc of the heavenly circle. The sun is entirely eclipsed and yet one scant week hence, all will be smoothed over, forgotten, perhaps. In life's long race, the defeat of today will mean nothing, absolutely nothing, except a spur to braver undertaking, for the morrow.
There is said to be a balm in Gilead. There's a balm here. It is time or distance sense.
There's a panacea for our troubles in the larger view of things. May our vision, as time flies, become more telescopic, less microscopic.
Has Rotary a meaning for you? No? Possibly you haven't the right perspective. You have worried yourself so much over the little unimportant things that you haven't even given yourself a momentary glimpse of the tout ensemble. Stand back, a few paces, for a moment, far enough away from the picture so that the details may assume their proper proportions and disclose their true relationship toward each other. It will profit you to get the distance sense.
Paul P. Harris
note: for a skilled author a noted attorney, the paragraph on the left,
and continuing above,
is unique in all the writing of Paul Harris for it is of one sentence.
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