There has been a lot of hubbub lately about whether Rotary is a service-orientated club or a membership-orientated club. It’s easy to see how easily we can get lost in the rhetoric, caught up in our projects, and lose sight of the long-term goal of all of our endeavors. While we’ve previously gone over many points regarding the purposes and spirit of Rotary, perhaps we’ve failed to accurately define the common end point of our efforts. Our motto is “Service above Self”, but our ultimate goal isn’t service. In fact, if service were our ultimate goal it may even be a bit of a selfish goal. Our service work should be a byproduct of our humanitarian focus. This focus should not drive us to create a world in which we do increasingly more service, but rather should compel us to focus our service on working toward creating a world where there are less and less service opportunities.
Paul Harris’s vision for the future of Rotary was that, “Rotary will continue to be charitable, but it can do more than that; let it remove the cause of that which makes charity necessary.”
We’ve all heard the parable about how if we give a man a fish he will eat for a day, but if we teach him to fish he will eat for a lifetime. In today’s world of overfished oceans this parable may no longer be precisely accurate. Therefore, as Rotarians we intend to further expand the reach of this parable and work towards not merely teaching men to fish, but rather teaching men to breed fish. To solve global hunger, poverty, and inequality we can’t simply look at immediate needs and give handouts such as food and money for eternity. That is service, but it’s not “Service Above Self”.
When we serve in charity projects, we tend to feel good about ourselves and our inner voice tells us, “We are powerful. We are needed.” But, short-sighted ‘handout-style’ service can often be more of a disservice than a service at all. It leaves people reliant on us, powerless, and in need. We need to look at long-term solutions that take economic, social, and environmental issues into consideration and have staying power. We’re talking about sustainable development. We want to create a world that removes barriers, increases democratization, and puts the freedom and responsibility to survive and thrive in the hands of each individual.
Service is still a cornerstone of Rotary, it’s just not our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal is to remove the causes which make charity necessary, most notably inequality.
When a service project is most successful, the people we’ve helped no longer need us, and in turn have the power to help others. Then, we can move on to the next population in need with no strings attached. We don’t have the need or feel the need to micromanage those that we’ve helped, and eventually there is no one left to help. This kind of Fire-and-Forget service is truly Service above Self.