MR GILBERT CHESTERTON, the English writer and critic,
once spoke of the present period as, "this Rotarian age," contrasting it
with the Victorian Age, which he, manifestly, preferred. After we have
enjoyed a good laugh at the cleverly turned phrase, we Rotarians may
perhaps be excused for rejoining, "Many thousands of folks throughout
the world believe that Rotary is making its imprint upon the times.
While Rotary is not a secret order, while it has no ceremonies or rites,
the concept of Rotary in the minds of those who are not members is
naturally vague. In a general way, folks think well and speak well of
Rotary. Many who are not members themselves number among their relatives
or friends those who are Rotarians and from them they have learned of
the movement, its purposes and accomplishments.
Rotary is probably best known by its good works of which there are many.
Boys clubs, bands and camps beyond number have been organized by Rotary
Clubs and by Rotarians individually. Rotarians are the mainsprings of
almost every kind of worthy endeavor. In some cities, every man on the
school board is a Rotarian. Under the devoted leadership of Rotarian
Edgar Allen of Elyria, Ohio, in two score of the states of America
societies for the benefit of crippled children were organized and new
laws passed for the care, cure and education of crippled children. The
work was also carried to Europe and two overseas conventions,
participated in largely by Rotarians, were held in the interest of
handicapped children. Thousands of little sufferers were beneficiaries
of this humanitarian work.
At Rotary Club meetings members become personally acquainted with
educators, Boy Scout executives, Salvation Army and Y.M.C.A. officers,
and representatives of all active welfare agencies, to the advantage of
such agencies and to the advantage of the Rotarians themselves. Rotary
is in fact a school for adult education in the affairs of social life.
Nearly all universities, colleges and high schools are represented by
members of their faculties in local Rotary Clubs. Through such contacts
business men are kept in touch with schools of higher education and the
work they are doing. The ramifications of Rotary are beyond imagination.
Nearly every phase of modern life is influenced and the outlook of
members is broadened, and through it all there is the benign influence
of fellowship which sweetens life. These are a few of the many reasons
why Rotarians value their membership.
Good works are not all there is in Rotary; good works are expressions
only of something beneath. Some of the most powerful forces in the world
are invisible. Electricity has never been seen by mortal man and yet it
can and does turn the wheels of industry. Gravity cannot be seen and yet
the mighty cataract of Niagara exists by virtue of the law of gravity.
Even the air we breathe is invisible and yet it sustains life. The power
of Rotary is invisible and yet it performs miracles. The gates of
empires have been lifted from their hinges by the power of ideas.
Beneath the good works of Rotary there is an invisible power; it is the
power of goodwill and by virtue of the power of goodwill Rotary exists.
Friendship is an evangelizing force. Thousands of men have been born
anew in the spirit of Rotary, into old-fashioned friendliness and
neighborliness such as I knew in my New England home.
In the Rotary plan business is an important part of life but it is not
the all of life. He whose vision extends no further than his field of
business is to be pitied; it matters not what his success in that
business may have been. Rotary aims to be practical; its philosophy is a
wholesome philosophy; it hopes to enrich life.
Rotary is neither a religion nor a substitute for religion. It is the
working out of religious impulses in modern life and especially in
business and international relations. In my lifetime business practices
have undergone particularly marked changes and here the influence of
Rotary has been strongly felt.
The membership by vocational classifications gives the movement the
opportunity to project its ethical ideals far beyond the limits of its
membership, out into the rank and file of every trade, profession or
occupation by which society is served. Each Rotarian is a connecting
link between the idealism of Rotary and his trade or profession. To
others in his vocation he bears peculiar responsibilities of securing
their cooperation in the development of highest standards for the
vocation. Hundreds of trade or bnsiness associations have been organized
by Rotarians that they might better fulfill their responsibilities.
In its efforts to promote understanding between nations Rotary makes use
of the same measures that demonstrated their effectiveness in Rotary's
earliest days-mutual interest and friendly intercourse. Through business
and social intercourse nations become intelligible to one another.
Strange customs which in the beginning are irritating eventually become
interesting and frequently are copied, contributing to the enrichment of
Friendship thrives in the atmosphere of Rotary where formalities and
artificialities are laid aside; where men regardless of rank or station
meet on a common plane. It is customary though not compulsory in
American Rotary clubs and those of many other countries as well, to use
the first name in greeting fellow members. It comes naturally to some,
while others acquire the habit gradually. Few fail to adjust themselves
to the custom.
It is told that when a prominent Australian citizen, who was also an
active Rotarian, had been honored by his King with the very high rank of
Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, thus making
him Sir George Fowldes, KCMG, and was thereupon asked by his fellow
Rotarians how they should now address him, he replied: "Keep Calling Me
When an individual, a sect, a clique or a nation hates and despises
another individual, sect, clique or nation, he or they simply do not
know the objects of their hatred. Ignorance is at the bottom of it.
Ignorance is a menace to peace. The higher the general average of
intelligence, all things else being equal, the less the disposition to
be meddlesome, critical, and overbearing. Individuals and nations owe it
to themselves and the world to become informed.
Rotary's program of promoting better understanding between different
racial groups and between devotees to different religious faiths, so
simply and yet so 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 members 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.
Insularity induces the superiority complex, and the superiority complex
is responsible for much trouble. Permanent superiority has never been
realized by any nation in history. After the rise comes the fall. The
nation that is supreme above all others during one age, will be eclipsed
by another in the next age. The very strength of a nation eventually
proves to be its weakness. After maturity comes old age; after ripeness
comes decay. It is nature's law and can not be repealed or overruled.
He who makes the eagle scream, the lion roar, the bear growl, is not
doing his country a service; he is probably not even trying to; he is in
all probability trying to do himself a service; actually he is doing his
country a dis-service. There is, however, a species of homo sapiens even
more pitiable; it is those who, when traveling abroad, rise superior to
the country to which they owe allegiance and expose its weaknesses to
sympathetic and admiring throngs.
The writer is an American and has no apologies to make for that fact. He
grants all others the privilege of proclaiming allegiance to the
countries to which they owe it. No one ever rises in the writer's esteem
through disloyalty to his country, wheresoever it may be. One ought to
love his country so well that he will resolve never to create enemies
for it, nor subject his fellow countrymen to ridicule through
proclaiming the land of his allegiance as "God's own country.' One may
manifest his own ignorance in that matter, but insult is a poor means of
winning friendship. The best way to win the esteem of others is by
observing the simple rules of decency. If they won't accomplish the
desired result, nothing will.
Can a club of fifty or a hundred members influence the character of a
small city? It has been clearly proven that Rotary clubs do influence
the characters of the cities in which they are established. The
influence naturally is most noticeable in the smaller communities. Many
a dejected, spiritless town of the Main Street variety has been revived
and invigorated. Existence can become drab indeed in small towns where
there is no public spirit and where homefolks are given to bickering and
gossip. If the spirit is what it should be, life should be at its best
in the smaller communities.
Rotarians of small town clubs have frequently, with deep feeling, stated
that the advent of Rotary has wrought wondrous changes, that contentions
and petty jealousies have given way to civic consciousness and
Dr. Charles E. Barker, formerly physical director for Mr. Win. Howard
Taft while he was president of the United States, is responsible for the
statement that the complexion of the small towns in America has been
entirely changed by Rotary and the other organizations which have
followed its lead. As Dr. Barker had visited thousands of them, he knows
whereof he speaks. Cooperation is the keynote of happy community life.
The influence of Rotary has frequently been brought to bear upon
intercity relationships through intercity meetings. Such meetings
between the representative business men of neighboring cities have on
many occasions resulted in the suppression of bitter rivalries and in
the promotion of the cooperative spirit. Intercity meetings have for
many years been a feature of Rotary in cities both large and small.
Frequently intercity meetings are attended by representatives of the
clubs of twenty-five or thirty neighboring cities; district conferences
have brought representatives of as many as one hundred different cities
together, and international conventions have brought representatives of
more than half a hundred nations together. Rotarians, while travelling
in their own country or abroad, attend Rotary club meetings whenever
possible. By consulting their international directory they can ascertain
when and where the weekly meetings are to be held. Meetings in the
larger cities are sure to be attended by many visiting Rotarians and
special attention is given them.
Rotary has given special study to reconciliation of conflicting
interests and has accomplished wonders in this direction through the
simple expedient of bringing opponents and rivals together in the
atmosphere of good-fellowship. Where fires of animosity burn or smolder
is Rotary's opportunity. Has the farming element in a community lost
faith in the business men? Then the business men will be hosts to the
farmers; there will be songs and entertainment, and there will be
straight-to-the-point talks from which both sides will gain much
information and better understanding will surely result.
Rotary has an appreciable influence even in the larger cities. To one
accustomed to life in large cities, the fellowship influence of Rotary
is discernible in the churches, chambers of commerce, social clubs,
lodges, golf clubs, craft associations, school systems and, in fact,
wherever men congregate.
The activities of Rotary cover a wide range of public and private
service. Members may make selection of their activities according to
their special tastes and aptitudes. There are comparatively few
all-round Rotarians who throw themselves into all of the recognized
activities. An all-round Rotarian is an exceptionally desirable citizen,
one who would be an asset to any community in which he might be located.
From such, most of the leaders are chosen.
An all-round Rotarian is interested in what are usually known as
Rotary's Four Objects:
1st-Club Service: That is, in matters pertaining to the administration
of affairs in his club.
2nd-Vocational Service: That is, in matters pertaining to the ethical
conduct of his business or profession.
3rd-Community Service: That is, in matters pertaining to the welfare of
the community in which he lives.
4th-International Service: That is, the promotion of international
good-will and understanding.
Many Rotarians, especially those of Brazil, contend that there is in
reality only one object, and that is the promotion of the service
concept as the most suitable motivating influence in life. What we now
term objects, they consider ways and means of accomplishing the one and
only object. Ches Perry thinks of service as Rotary's super highway and
of the four principal activities as the four lanes constituting it.
Entire agreement is too much to expect. Presumably no two of the two
hundred and fifty thousand Rotarians are in entire accord as to the way
in which Rotary can make the most of itself. That men do not think alike
is no more remarkable than that they do not look alike. Shades of
thought are far more variant than shades of color and as difficult to
change. One's belief is dependent upon so many influences-temperament,
heredity, environment, experience,-and leaders must temper their
judgment with patience and kindly forbearance. No dogmatic Rotary can be
The thought that the minimum possible benefit from Rotary contacts is
something well worthwhile is a source of satisfaction to those who serve
the movement. No one can attend Rotary club meetings with the necessary
regularity without finding his life enriched by the friendly contacts,
and his mental and moral outlook improved by the cultural programs
The advance of Rotary to its present position constitutes a romance of
organization development. Seventy nations have, to varying extent,
experienced its benefits. The splendid progress thus far made is the
result of the efforts of Rotarians of a limited number of nations where
Rotary has been longest established. With the other nations, the
propulsion has had its origin outside their borders. What will be the
measure of accomplishments when Rotary becomes as well entrenched in all
nations as it is today in the United States, Great Britain, and Canada.
Rotary and the numerous other organizations which have risen in its wake
are considered by students of social movements as among the most
remarkable developments of the period; the period facetiously referred
to by Mr. Chesterton as "this Rotarian age."
In course of time, I paid a second visit to my valley coming as the
guest of Rotarians of the states of Vermont and New Hampshire. The
outpouring was so great that it soon became manifest that no public
building in Wallingford would hold them. Not to be outdone, the American
Fork and Hoe Company came to the rescue.
On the day of the meeting scores of the employees assembled, dismantled
a portion of the plant, moving heavy machinery into other parts of the
building, brought more than four hundred seats in, and at night-fall the
miracle had been performed; Wallingford had an assembly hall capable of
accommodating its unprecedented assemblage.
From over the hills and mountains of the States, Rotarians came to do
their respective parts to welcome the Rotary Club of Wallingford which
came into existence that evening.
After the speeches of welcome and fellowship and the presentation of the
charter to the new club, the assemblage melted away; happy friends were
on their way again over hills and mountains to their homes, and the big
fork and hoe plant was being retransformed into an agricultural
implement factory; the bell rang as usual the next morning and the men
went to work.
Such doings had never been heard of in our valley, and, dreamer though I
admittedly am, I never would have dreamed of such an outpouring of men
from our own and other valleys in response to a common ideal
New Englanders are not easily moved to changes in their life habits, but
when after due deliberation they accept an innovation they seldom
retrace their steps. As the automobile has leveled the mountains of New
England, so also have great steamships bridged the seas to advance
understanding and goodwill sponsored by Rotary. When Rotary
International has held conventions in Edinburgh, Ostend, Vienna and
Nice, it has required an entire fleet of trans-Atlantic liners to
transport North American Rotarians and their families to the various
ports of debarkation. No one can see just what part the airplane is to
play in Rotary but it is safe to predict that it will eventually
facilitate and accelerate the advancement of understanding and goodwill
When Rotary holds its convention ten years hence, the skies will be full
of planes from all the cities throughout the world. Nothing but good can
come of such meetings of men united in the common ideal of service.
Rotary is an integrating force in a world \where forces of
disintegration are all too prevalent; Rotary is a microcosm of a world
at peace, a model which nations will do well to follow.
Along the path blazed by Rotary a score of other "service club"
organizations have followed gathering into their membership hundreds of
thousands of like-minded men of altruistic impulses. There are also
several similar organizations of business and professional women.
There is still room for more Rotary and other similar clubs and for
internationally minded organizations of other types and character; it
matters little under what banner they meet so long as they foster
international understanding and good-will.
The influence of Rotary on public opinion in the sixty countries where
our over five thousand clubs of today are located has been more helpful
than is known by many. To be sure our membership is small as compared
with the world's population but the character of Rotarians in general
and the positions they occupy justifies, I think, the statement I have
To begin with, Rotarians are members of the law making bodies of most
countries. In our own United States Congress there are many Rotarians
who are members of the lower house and several in the Senate. Two of the
members of President Truman's cabinet are Rotarians, one a past
president of Rotary International.
The newspapers in the United States and in other countries are widely
represented in Rotary, the owners themselves generally holding the
Educators by the tens of thousands have been drawn to Rotary thereby
making certain that millions of youth of this period and of succeeding
generations will partake of its blessings.
Rotarians have shown amazing loyalty to their clubs. Several members
have maintained unbroken attendance records at meetings for more than
thirty years; even entire clubs have had unbroken attendance records for
more than one hundred consecutive meetings. To some men their Rotary
membership is almost the most precious thing in life.
Why this affection for Rotary? It is the love of man for his fellow man.
When stripped of all formalities and creeds, fellowship flourishes.
Rotary draws no lines of politics or religion; Mohamedans, Budhists,
Christians and Jews, break bread together in happy fellowship. Rotary is
as popular in caste ridden India as in other countries. There is no
proselyting in Rotary. Members are entitled to their own opinions on
questions of controversial nature. The platform is broad enough to
include all sorts and conditions of men just so they be friendly,
tolerant of the views of others and unselfish.
Friendship was the foundation rock on which Rotary was built and
tolerance is the element which holds it together. There is enough atomic
energy in every Rotary club to blow it into a thousand bits were it not
for the spirit of tolerance; just such tolerance as marked the life of
my grandfather from which my own faith sprang.
In fact this is Rotary's day. For the first time in the life of the
movement, the Great Powers of the earth are definitely interested in the
promotion of international understanding and goodwill. This is the very
essence of Rotary. God grant that the Great Powers be patient with each
other's shortcomings, and ever remember that this is a predatory world
in which we have so long lived. As we emerge from the jungle age we can
not, in good conscience, point the finger of scorn at each other. The
spirit of tolerance which has made it possible for Rotary to form a
world wide fellowship of business and professional men will make all
My lady Jean and I feel that we have been singularly blest in the
opportunity which Rotary has afforded us to win the friendship of
thousands of men of many nations and thus assure ourselves of the fact
that the concept of "Peace on Earth; good-will to all men," is not an
idle dream but that peace is sure to come. It is a privilege to live in
the year of the Lord 1945 and to witness the great awakeniuig; and once
again we thank you, Mr. Gilbert Chesterton, for coining the phrase:
'This is the Rotarian Age."