An Opinion Regarding Rotary
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An Opinion Regarding Rotary
By Paul P. Harris
Service is many sided. Men are not like minded. The problem of Rotary International is not so much how Rotarians shall serve as it is whether or not they serve.

WHEN a youth is at the point where he needs a new suit of clothes every three or four months, he is likely to be afflicted with certain aches and pains known as growing pains. The information that they are growing pains does not afford the boy infinite satisfaction. He fervently wishes that they were well done with and sure enough they will be well done with ‑ when the growing period is past.

So long as Rotary continues to grow it will be afflicted with growing pains and we who entertain profound ambitions for Rotary must not be disappointed if there is more or less pulling and tugging from time to time.

Having a spike driven into one's pet ambition is no more satisfying than growing pains are to a boy and yet, if we are sufficiently philosophical, we may be able to derive some satisfaction from the thought that our pet ambition is merely being put to a test which it will in all probability survive and benefit from if it is indeed the profoundly wonderful thing we believe it to be.

It is my belief that the currents of Rotary have never been more deeply agitated than during the year of 1923, and I am certain that we have never made greater progress. Now that the year has rolled by, we may be able to shake hands and say "We have fought and bled together. God bless you, here's for another year. May the saddest day of the future be happier than the happiest day of the past."

Among other things, we have during the year 1923 made many attempts to define Rotary.

"Yes, But That's Just One Man's Opinion "

‑ is the phrase with which the man in the street often tries to dismiss the verdict of a dramatic critic, with whom the average man has a variance. However, the man in the street is wrong ‑ it isn't the opinion of one man with which the conflict occurs - it is the reasoned judgment of generations of men who have studied drama ‑ expressed through the pen of one man. Similarly the value of opinions concerning Rotary, and Rotary's raison d'etre, lies largely in the accumulated wisdom represented.

On this and the opposite page you will find two opinions as to Rotary's real mission in the world ‑ opinions elucidated by the recent publication of the views of Rotarian William Moffatt. One of the opinions presented this month is the expression of Paul P. Harris, President Emeritus of Rotary; the other is the viewpoint of Raymond M. Havens, Immediate Past President of Rotary International. Both men bring to the task the essence of years of Rotary effort and Rotary experience. Both opinions are well worth your careful consideration. You may or may not agree with either of them ‑ but at least you will find your interest held and your thought challenged by the earnestness which permeates these views. When you have read them your own view may be strengthened or it may not ‑ you may feel secure in your convictions or find your conception of Rotary crumbling away. You may even decide that neither view is quite right and feel moved to expound just what, in your opinion, is Rotary's real objective.


Perhaps Charlie Mackintosh, former president of the Advertising Clubs of the World, came as near as possible to hitting the nail on the head when be answered the question, "What is Rotary?" by relating the fable of the three blind men who attempted to describe the elephant. To him who chanced to lean against its ponderous sides, the elephant was very like a wall; to him who felt its sturdy legs, it was very like a tree; to him who grasped its squirming trunk, it was very like a rope. Charlie's obvious inference was that the individual's conception of Rotary would depend largely upon his point of contact. Like the elephant, Rotary has more sides than one and if it is now to be made unilateral, which side shall be permitted to survive, your side, my side, the inside or the outside?

To me, Rotary has been something of an experimental laboratory. I have never been able to qualify as a prophet. Some of my most cherished dreams have faded away, while some of my least valued conceptions have gained vigor with the passage of time. One thing has never failed me and that has been the power of friendship. I have been time and again astounded at the way it proves out. I have come to believe it to be unfathomable. Its ways are mysterious; it is to be found where one might well think that it could not exist. There is a depth of friendship in the hearts of some otherwise very commonplace men, which is nearly sublime. It refreshes and invigorates the soul to observe its workings. In the final analysis it seems to me that it must have been intended as the salvation of mankind. Is there anything more potent than man's impulse to hate? I think that there surely is and that it is man's impulse to love. What have we been advertising throughout the centuries? We have been advertising war. The pages of history reek with it. In the days of my childhood, no education was considered well begun until hatred of alien races had been burned into one's mind. It was surely wonderful advertising and done just in the nick of time. The child mind is a delicate film, wonderfully impressionable. Love is mightier than hate. Give it one half the advertising that hate has had, and there will be no more war.

BUT what is Rotary?

Very generally speaking, it is the Golden Rule in action seven days in the week. But what kind of action? There's where we differ; according to our various points of contact.

I do not think that it is the part of wisdom to attempt to put Rotary into a straight jacket. Rotary has during the nineteen years of its life passed through various evolutionary processes, and I think it fair to assume that it will still further evolve.

The world war inspired one of the finest advances in the evolution of Rotary, the inclusion of the cultivation of international friendships. There are Rotarians who have been so profoundly impressed with the significance of this latest development that they have even been disposed to cast aside everything else that Rotary might dedicate itself exclusively to this one service. Certain it is, that there could be no more noble cause, and in some respects Rotary seems to be the most suitable agency for the achievement of the purpose. A war‑weary world yearns for peace. Advocates of this particular activity may, with a considerable degree of reason, say: "Why should we not abandon everything else in favor of this one thing; we could be so much more effective if all would abandon their particular hobbies and come to the aid of this one superlative thing ‑ the need of which is recognized by all men."

Then there are those who feel that the greatest outrage which civilization has ever permitted to exist since the beginning of the world exists to this day; the outrage whereby innocent and helpless children are permitted to suffer handicaps throughout life, many of them because of the iniquities of their forbears. Such men say: "I don't care what you do afterwards but for the love of God, let us throw off our coats and clean up this mess first. Science tells us that it can be done. Individually we cannot do it, but collectively we can.

THEN there are those who feel that the world's greatest need today is that trade be filled with the spirit of service that right there is to be heard Rotary's own distinctive call; that whatsoever Rotary might be able to accomplish elsewhere matters not. The parent must heed the cry of its own offspring, let others heed the cry of theirs. They may plausibly contend that if we men of Rotary scatter our fire in a hundred and one directions we shall never accomplish anything worth while; that if Rotary can get this one message across, this message of service to customer and to employee, there will be little need of charities, alms houses and the penal institutes may close their doors; that the one thing to be feared more than all else, more fearful than international strife, is the lurid flame of Bolshevism; that the conflagration in Russia threatens to engulf the world; that there is only one course for sane men to follow and that is to start a back fire, a back fire of service and brotherly love and that if such procedure is impossible all will be lost.

Then there are those to whom boys work is paramount. They see the boy of today as the man of tomorrow. They note how impressionable his mind; how responsive he is to kind influences; how desperate his case may become without them. Some have sons of their own and know of the temptations by which they have been beset. They are keenly alive to the needs and fired with zeal to serve them. They feel perhaps that the one and only sure way to get the service message across is through the medium of the boy.

Would it seem entirely irrational if such were to contend that all else should be abandoned and the full power of Rotary turned upon the boy? We must admit that several very excellent cases can be made by their advocates.

Boy work under the present plan arrives at its inspirational apex during the month of May. Would it not be a splendid manifestation of the Rotary spirit of tolerance and co‑operation if all who are interested in crippled children work would not only suspend their own activities during boys' week and the two or three weeks preceding, but also throw themselves into the boys' work program?

However, some cases may be stronger than others. The question, however, remains : Is it practical at this period in the evolution of Rotary to fit all minds to a common mould? Will the interests of Rotary be best served by attempting to do that, or will it be better to continue in the spirit of the resolution first passed at the Atlanta convention and later confirmed in St. Louis, allowing the affiliated clubs the privilege of selecting activities suitable to the needs of their respective communities and to the human material of which they are composed?

In favor of adherence to the spirit of the above mentioned resolutions much can be said.

ROTARY is now international in its scope. The most acute problems of one country at a particular time are not necessarily the most critical of another at that same time. The most acute problems of a country at one time are not necessarily the most acute problems of that same country at another time. Great Britain was in the maelstrom of the war from the beginning to the end. Would it not be natural and proper that to British Rotarians the most valued service which Rotary can possibly render the world at this time is in giving of itself to the preservation of world peace?

The Rotary clubs of Cuba have found that they can best serve by combating dishonest tendencies on the part of public officials.

National liberty was America's all absorbing theme in 1776 and individual freedom was an equally desperate question in 1860.

Service is many sided. Men are not like minded. The problem of Rotary International is not so much how Rotarians shall serve as it is whether or not they serve.

Absolute autonomy may not be possible; practical autonomy is possible and the delegates to Atlanta and the delegates to St. Louis thought it much to be desired.

Possibly the broad spirit of tolerance which characterized the relationship between the individual clubs and Rotary International may advantageously be permitted in the relationship between the individual members of a club and the club's governing body.

IF I were today the president of a Rotary club it seems to me that my ambition would be to give my club's activities the best balance which circumstances would possibly permit. I think that the maximum of results are obtained where members are privileged to select their own activities within the recognized lines, but it seems to me that I would also want to impress as far as possible upon the minds of all members that just as business occupations may become narrowing so also Rotary activities may become narrowing and that the best results can only be attained in more or less general participation in the club's activities. Perhaps we shall hear in the future of well-balanced Rotarians and of well‑balanced Rotary clubs.

The best way to neutralize the opposition to one activity is for the proponents of such activity to join in promoting the projects of the opposing element. It is when one particular activity gains such momentum, that in the minds of some it seems to threaten to sweep everything before it, that opposition arises.

It seems to me that it should not frequently be necessary to employ destructive methods. Each of the four activities above referred to has its special merits which commend it under special circumstances.

If I were a member of a club the members of which were so engrossed in purely social activities that "Service above Self" was beginning to have little meaning, it seems to me that it would be my desire that the officers use as a means of raising the membership out of its indulgence the most compelling means at my command, and I know of nothing for such purpose comparable with crippled children's work. It has the pull on the heart strings, and who can for a minute doubt its sterling worth?

Is it not entirely practicable to preserve the activities above referred to and to so regulate them that the one will help to serve the purposes of the others? We must not forget that the advocates of boys' work and certain other activities have, perhaps, something in the nature of vested rights. Many members may have been induced to come into Rotary in the expectation of continued interest in these movements. Such rights have been given standing through , practice, through literature and even through legislation.

STARTING out with the assumption that Rotary's own distinctive work is to raise standards of trade by putting the Golden Rule to work in business, does it not naturally follow that in order to do so effectively we must make a worldwide movement of Rotary, and does it not follow that the encouragement of international friendship is the best means through which. to accomplish the purpose ?

Is it not also true that the most certain method of making our propaganda permanent is through impressing it upon the minds of the coming generation.

One of the most impressive, and at the same time one of the most scholarly portrayals of the spirit of service in business which it has ever been my privilege to behold, was a little drama which was given by the children of the Spalding School for Crippled Children for the benefit of the members of the Rotary Club of Chicago.

It will live long in the minds of the Rotarians present, and I sincerely believe that it was indelibly impressed upon the minds of the children who took part and of the children and parents who were present as spectators.

Let us sell the Golden Rule in business as well as in every other contact to every nation, to every man, every woman, and every child.

This program is not intended as a panacea for all possible ills. I would not eliminate the growing pains of Rotary if I could, but the process of pulling apart is not the only means of making human progress. Advances are sometimes made by pulling together. I think we need not fear that the future of Rotary will prove to be serene enough to produce anemia. New issues will probably arise as fast as old issues are settled. We still have a long journey before us.

One thing we must bear in mind and that is: Evolutionary processes have taken us through many difficulties during the past. If Rotary of the future will exercise the same patience and the same forbearance that has been characteristic of Rotary of the past, many of our difficulties and many of our differences will settle themselves. The unworthy will cease to exist and the worthy will survive. This is the nineteenth milestone only. If the next nineteen years yield proportionate progress, we shall indeed have a Rotary which will amply justify the best that has been said of us; aye, the best that has ever been thought. 


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