DG Message – December Article
Paul Harris was a man that lived through the chaos and ravages of two world wars, and thus bore witness to the havoc wrought by jingoism, partisanism, and general disintegration. Thus, the orientation of the Rotary mission that he laid down was likely in opposition to the disintegrated and destructive zeitgeist of the war-torn times in which he lived. This opposition and direction can both clearly be seen when he put forth Rotary as, “…an integrating force in a world where forces of disintegration are all too prevalent”.
While unfortunate, in that he lived to see the ravages and disintegration of two world wars, he was nevertheless fortunate enough see the actualization of his vision and the fruition of his aspirations in integrating a post-war torn world. One of the most salient examples of Rotary’s contribution to integrating a fractured and divided world is the long history Rotary shares with the United Nations. Beginning in 1945, 49 Rotarians went to San Francisco to help draft the UN Charter, and since that time Rotary and the UN have been close partners. Even Polio Plus is a product born of the relationship between ourselves and UN agencies.
However, what has become of the legacy of Paul Harris? Have we found ourselves resting on our laurels? Has our cursus honorum, like that of the late Roman Republic, been marred by hints of decadence? We must ask ourselves, are our efforts being fueled by civic virtue and directed toward maximizing the good we can do in the world, or are club and personal gain becoming increasingly important factors in how we conduct Rotary business.
Our motto is the same, word for word, as it was when it was first penned: “Service Above Self”. Are we still upholding this motto, or has it simply become a slogan to grace our banners and merchandise, and be chanted incessantly, but practiced rarely. Putting service above self also means putting the good we can do above interpersonal squabbles and petty administrative divisions. There is a second half to the quote cited above regarding Rotary’s role as an integrative force. Paul Harris wanted, “Rotary [to be] a microcosm of a world at peace, a model which nations will do well to follow.” Rotary did well to pull the world up from the factious wartime period and help promote integration. However, after over half a century, I must ask you all: Do we look like a microcosm of a world at peace?