“We have no instruments other than our principles, nor more strength than our enthusiasm. We are sure of victory because of the great faith that all of us Rotarians have in …humanity.” These are the foundations that Paul Harris has laid down for us. Noble and graced with sublimity, they are the stars by which we steer our course. However, they are pristine, untouched, and set in the heavens. Far removed from the daily dross we tread though, they are devoid of earthly impurities. They are our transcendence. But, while they lift up our spirits, our bodies are worldly and our work terrestrial.
Thus, we must channel our transcendent principles and enthusiasm through this clay and into this earthly medium for the benefit of society. For this we need an interface. Through Rotary we often find this interface in the form of service projects. Previously, we’ve broached the symbiotic nature of service, and in no way would I hazard any comment detracting from that ever-so-important bidirectional dynamic. We truly must help others, to help ourselves, for the benefit of us all. However, if we were to remove service from the Rotary philosophical context where we’ve rightly found it ensconced, and treated it merely as a means to an end of benefiting the community, we would need to consider a cost-benefit analysis. The cost would be what we put in, and the benefit would be what the community, or world, gets out.
Unfortunately, planning, developing, and preparing a service platform takes an enormous input of both time and resources. Moreover, the amount of time we have available to actually engage in the operations of the project and interface with the community is limited. Finally, when we participate in service projects we also often find ourselves in roles that we were not trained for and rely on the heat of our own passion to power through. And though hot with zeal, passion without know-how can only take us so far. From a non-contextual cost-benefit analysis, service projects demonstrate poor efficiency.
Again, while I’m certainly not trying to diminish the importance of service projects in anyway, we must not forget that as an organization of professionals and leaders we have far more opportunities for service than projects alone. In the majority of our interactions with society, where we have an opportunity to make an interface between our values and our community, we are in the capacity of our professions. As such, we fulfill certain social niches that are both necessary and important. Thus, our professional positions provide us with the most accessible and efficient platform to interface and impact society. Despite Rotary’s longstanding tradition of service being outwardly decorated most prominently by service projects, the majority of the service we do as Rotarians is in our offices and in our professional capacities. Paul Harris himself said that, “Of all the hundred and one ways in which men can make themselves useful to society, undoubtedly the most available and often the most effective are within the spheres of their own occupations.”
As it is our goal to nurture leaders who keep our principles, ignite our enthusiasm, and build faith in humanity, and our most effective capacity is that of our own professions, we have to ask ourselves how we can use the spheres of our occupations to bridge the sublimity of our lofty principles with the banality of this earthly clay to nurture others and encourage them to build their own bridges.
Because, that’s what Rotary is all about: Building bridges.