Challenge of the future

Challenge of the future

The foreign minister of Belgium, Paul van Zeeland, addressing the 1953 international convention in Paris, said: “If the moral and political sciences had kept up with the wisdom of the exact sciences, if man’s wisdom had been as great as his knowledge, he would today be in the midst of a Golden Age . . .”

His concluding words, however, placed what-might-have-been in proper perspective and sketched a brighter blueprint for the future. “After all,” he said, “isn’t it true that in any conflict between opposed ideologies, the victor is, in the end, the side which is inspired by the highest ideal and which succeeds in carrying this ideal into action? In the long run the last word always belongs to the spirit.”

The world of the spirit is today’s unyielding frontier; it will not submit to formula nor laboratory nor assembly line. Scientists can shrink the world to one geographic neighborhood, but they can not make the “neighbors” like each other. They can isolate no formulas which can be automatically applied to produce respect and service and fellowship in an interdependent world. They can delve in­to the atom, the building block of the universe, and release its awesome power, but they can not restrain the outlaw’s hand who would destroy the earth.

Against the backdrop of the first half of the epochal Twentieth Century, most of the spectacular headlines have been written by men who indulged the selfish desires of material superiority, brute strength, and narrow partisanship. Narrow causes, gnawing at men’s idealism, have taken their toll, but the human spirit springs back eternally nurtured and inspired by the noblest ideals. Rotary’s appeal has been to these ideals—the selfless spirit searching for the best in other men. This universal spirit is searching for a way out of the Valley of Imminent Destruction.

Is there a way?

Rotary’s founder wrote:

Rotary’s program of promoting better understanding between different racial groups and between devotees to different religious faiths, so simply and auspiciously begun in the year 1905, has met with greater success thus far than the negotiations of diplomats. It has been the way of Rotary to focus thought upon matters in which they are in agreement, rather than upon matters in which they are in disagreement. Rotary has satisfactorily demonstrated the fact that friendship can easily hurdle national and religious boundary lines.

This approach represents the technique of the simple act, the small man-to-man acts of service and fellowship. Is this technique equal to the demands of the present and future? Whether it is or not, Rotary offers no magic formula, no quick solution. Its method does not make headlines.

But it does make friends.

A Rotarian in a small town in northern Sweden wrote a letter across the world to another Rotarian in New South Wales, Australia. Both, although in the same line of business, were strangers to each other. The letter originated from a Rotary activity known as “Targets for Today,” through which Rotarians exchange letters, slides, tapes, programs—and people, too—in order to build a better understanding of each other.

Among other things, the Swedish Rotarian learned that the thousands of emigrants entering Australia—many from war-torn lands of widely differing traditions—no longer were referred to as “displaced persons.” They were called “new Australians.” And what a difference!

The Swedish Rotarian was touched by this. And both men came to feel a common understanding through their exchange of letters.

A small act? Yes, a small act, but multiply this act by a half million such acts! Out of such a barrage of understanding comes the destruction of such cliches as “plodding Englishmen,” “greedy Americans,” “hot-tempered Latins,” “stolid Orientals,” and the other labels which hamper communication between men.

The genuine approach to Rotary fellowship—the firm handclasp and the warm, informal greeting—speaks in inaudible eloquence: “You don’t pray or talk the way I do, but you’re a fellow human being, and I like you.”

Rotary creates an atmosphere in which the natural “neighborliness” of men can assert itself and a method by which the universal hunger for fellowship can be filled. Rotary influences men to oscillate, to move around the luncheon table so that the circle of acquaintanceship be comes larger, to move around the district and their country and the world.

So, the Rotarian who accepts the challenge of a true ad­venture in service will move in ever larger circles of fel­lowship, if not in person at least in point of view. Aware of and sensitive to his personal opportunities for service, he will use the avenues of Rotary to widen his horizons and deepen his perceptions. He will also take the long view of the world in which he lives, and, ever mindful of the urgency of the hour, he will move with deliberate judgment.

If one 60-minute turn of the clock’s minute hand represented 100,000 years of man’s life on earth, the last few seconds would represent man’s efforts to unite with other men for mutual protection and progress. Men have come a long way during these last few “seconds;” With the grim memory of two world wars haunting his mind and the likelihood of another casting a long shadow across his future and his children’s future, mankind must realize the pressing necessity of finding a route to survival.

There is not much promise, however, in survival alone; to return to the sheltering cave is merely pushing backward the hands of the clock. Twentieth Century man, conqueror of land and sea and space, discoverer of the secrets of the universe, and builder of temples and schools and hospitals, must build a world community that will be as safe and as pleasant as the home in which he rears his children.

The challenge of the future is to move faster along the four avenues of Rotary service—and especially toward the goal of international understanding. If there is failure here, there will be no need for concern about the others.

Each Rotarian must accept his own personal challenge: to strengthen club service, for this is the foundation of all service; to serve and dignify his profession, and to exert leadership to raise the standards of his business or profession; to serve his community more effectively, so that his town or city will become a better place in which to live and rear his children; and to explore every possible means, with his own club and in co-operation with other groups, to increase international understanding—thereby hastening the time of peace and good will.

Each Rotarian must be aware of the seriousness of his own personal challenge or there can be no acceptance of tomorrow’s challenge by Rotary as an organization. Paul Harris must have had in mind each Rotarian’s acceptance of his current responsibilities when he wrote: “The story of Rotary will have to be written again and again.”

Our inference must be that the story of Rotary is written again each time a new member comes into a club, and each time an old member personally achieves—or tries to achieve—the object of Rotary.

How well can we write the story of Rotary, today and in the future? This is the challenge thrust upon every Rotarian.

At the Mexico City convention in 1952 Dr. Alberto Lleras of Bogota, Colombia, secretary of the Organization of American States, revealed part of the secret of Rotary’s past success and outlined the hopeful shape of the future when he said:

The way in which Rotary International proceeds is very well suited to its purpose. It is the open-minded approach, simple and direct, like the friendly visit to a neighbor, calling on all who share the desire to serve others. But the philosophy implicit in this approach is that of human solidarity . . .

These gatherings (Rotary conventions) provide us with a glimpse of humanity as we should like it to be, as it is going to be, as it must be. Tolerant of the imperfections and strange ways of others; determined to understand even the lowliest motives in the behavior of foreigners; deaf to sectarian appeals to discrimination on grounds of sex, race, religion, or accident of birth, of class and party strife, with all of which fanatical groups attempt to sow the seeds of irrational hatred in which their cults flourish; freed from violence; chastened by suffering; and ennobled by friendship.

The challenge of the future?

To ennoble the world by friendship—to help create a world where order, service to humanity, and peace prevail.