Service Is Our Business chapter 1

An incident in one of Moliere’s gay comedies involves a letter which a “shopkeeper turned Gentleman” plans to drop at the feet of a lady of quality. Seeking help in writing it from a rather pompous teacher, the shopkeeper insists that the letter should be written in neither verse nor prose.

“It must be in either one or the other,” the teacher tells him.

“And when we speak, what is that then?”


“Upon my word,” the surprised shopkeeper exclaims, “I have been speaking prose these forty years without being aware of it.”

Can it be that Rotarians who protest that they do not understand vocational service share the bewilderment of this shopkeeper? How often the complaint is heard. Vague, intangible, theoretical, are a few of the many criticisms heaped upon this phase of the Rotary program. Yet of all things, vocational service is the most simple and practical—the prose of each man’s life and occupation.

Prose can be dull—dull as the daily grind of earning a living over days and months and years of servitude. Or prose can leap with inspiration and sparkle un as does the life of any business or professional or humble craftsman who has discovered the opportunity for service in his occupation. Servitude or service? That is the choice of everyone everyday as he takes off his coat to go to work. How he views his occupation is all important. The view depends upon the point of view.

The point of view that Service Is My Business is the simplest explanation of vocational service. All you have to do is to ask ourselves, and we shall understand clearly what it means. In my profession, for instance, is service my business? When it comes to considering the needs of my clients or patients or pupils, are their best interests in the forefront of my thoughts all the time, or am I concerned mostly with advancing my career? When competition gets rough, and the other fellow is crowding me? When a strike threatens or an employee makes what would appear to be an unreasonable complaint? Or when a complaint of my own that seemed so thoroughly justified is airily dismissed ? Is service my business? Is service my business when I confront the hard decisions arising from changing prices, new processes, or new investments?

Service is my business—the explanation is simple enough. But the situations that business and professional men encounter in their daily work are vastly complicated. The climate for service may be harsh and discouraging.

An enthusiastic exponent of vocational service tells of his disappointment;

“The business in which I am interested is reduced to one-third of what it was six years ago and is still losing money because my competitors can undersell.

Why can they undersell?

“(1) By underpaying the legitimate wage laid down by the wage agreement;
“(2) By working employees at cut piecework rates and making them take work home to be made up by their families;
“(3) By forcing employees to sign a receipt for the correct wages and actually paying half—even a quarter of that amount.

“My choice is either to continue to lose money, to leave the industry, or to join the unscrupulous manufacturers in their nefarious practices.”

Disregarding the extreme circumstances of this Rotarian’s dilemma, it places in sharp focus the difficulty that vocational service presents to many Rotarians and many Rotary clubs. Surely the solution of his dilemma is obvious. Yet it seems to have escaped him. Obviously, he must strive to amend “the nefarious practices” and to establish decent conditions for production and distribution throughout his whole industry. If he could accomplish that, how much the scope service would be extended, and yet it would still be his business.

The province of vocational service is misunderstood when it is limited to the aims and practices of Rotarians. The field is much wider, much more inviting to tangible and specific action, much less a delicate matter of the private conscience.

Vocational service is SHARING with others are not Rotarians—SHARING with them the ideal of Rotary.

This concept of vocational service derives from the principle which is the very core of Rotary—the selection of members on the basis of classification. As a trustee of his classification, each Rotarian is obligated to share with others who are not Rotarians—and particularly with those others associated with him in business or profession—the realization that “service business.”

An objective function is prescribed in vocational service for each Rotarian—to demonstrate for others the meaning of “service is my business” in all the relationships of his business or profession. For—as Albert Schweitzer discerned—”example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing . . . But they should not think ‘Behold, I am giving an example.’ That spoils it. Anyone who thinks of the example he will give to others has lost his simplicity. Only as a man has simplicity can his example influence others.”

Thus conceived, vocational service is capable of demonstrations as tangible as the provision of comforts for the aged or the rehabilitation of a crippled child or any other of the obvious contributions that Rotarians make in community service. And the duties of the vocational service committee are equally clear.

In Rotary, thoughtfulness of others is regarded as the basis of service and helpfulness to others as its expression. To provide this “basis,” a vocational service committee should stimulate members to think through the actual problems that they are facing in their daily business or professional practice. This “case study approach” to vocational service is far more likely to stir them than any generalized preachment. Discussion at a club or fireside meeting of one man’s dilemma tends to draw from others descriptions of problems they are themselves facing. In this way, vocational service loses its mystical character, becomes rooted in the raw material of life and gives specific illustrations of how each Rotarian can “put Rotary to work where he works.”

“Vocational service is the challenge of Rotary^’ is the clarion call of one Rotarian. “It is the main feature which distinguishes Rotary as a unique organization among many societies the world over. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that it constitutes Rotary’s main justification for existence in a world that needs the Rotary conception of service in vocation today as never before.

“For this is a time of change, a time when as never before in our lifetime, we have the opportunity in the midst of uncertainty to create a world in which conflict and class war shall give place to friendship and co-operation, a world which shall satisfy and not frustrate the toiling millions, a world based on the mutual recognition of the Rotary concept of service as the basis of all worthy enterprise.”

No less challenging than the broad, social implications of vocational service are the results of individual self-examination. Dissecting the meaning of service in his business, the director of a museum in Switzerland sees it as a “plus^’ over and beyond the responsibility that he owes to the society which provides his livelihood. “I can undertake this responsibility lightly, sit through the appointed hours as do the proverbial bureaucrats. Or I can fulfill my responsibility scrupulously—do my work faithfully and take care of my personal interests besides. Thereby I can give exactly as much as I take and no more.

“I can, however, understand this responsibility in a higher sense, and start from the desire to see my work contribute to society. If I succeed in that, then I perform service and give the public back more than it gives me. In practice that would mean, in my vocation, that I develop and broaden the use of the museum through constructive thinking. I share the view of many of my colleagues that the museum can and should develop a much greater usefulness in educational and civic ways. If that is so and were it achieved, it would be just that ‘plus’ which I identify with service. Service is always thought for the future, the conviction that a better society can be created, a contribution to the future and belief in the future.”

Men who have not lost their vision in spite of setbacks and disappointments—men who have built their business or professional lives around the aim of helpfulness to others and to the community of men—these find a sure reward. A Rotarian physician, invited to explain what service meant in his craft, described the humble laboratory that stands near the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta, India. It was here that Colonel Ross discovered the cause and method of the transmission of malaria. A modest plaque carries this legend in verse, written by Colonel Ross himself:

This day relenting God
Hath placed within my hand
A wondrous thing, and God
Be praised, at his command
Seeking His secret deeds
With tears and toiling breath,
I find thy cunning seeds,
0 million-murdering death.
I know this little thing
A myriad men will save:
0 death, where is thy sting
Thy victory, 0 grave?

The physician continued: “How great an honor was given Ross that millions who never knew his name should breathe and know life because of him? And what shall I say more, for the time would fail me to tell of Caler and Deaver and Murphy and the Mayos and Koch and Roentgen and all the host of others who through ceaseless vigil and an irresistible desire to know the truth subdued diseases, obtained cures for pernicious anemia, stopped the ravages of diabetes, quenched the violence of tuberculosis, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, and put to flight the armies of sickness”

Each classification in Rotary could recite a similar roll call of unsparing contributors, men who overcame many disappointments, risking criticism and material loss to raise the standards of their chosen vocation. There is not a man in Rotary who, looking backward, would not select as his most rewarding experiences the opportunities he has found to serve society.

How these opportunities develop out of the rough clay of daily business and professional practice, we shall now attempt to illustrate.

In what ways does your club help each member

to share Rotary with non-Rotarians in his business or profession?