Heart of America E-Club Program for March 11, 2014
Our Core Values and Vocational Service
Bhichai Rattakul Past RI President
The saying “To see the rainbow we must endure the rain” is very true. You are here not to see the rainbow. Yet you cannot avoid enduring the rain and the storm in order to seek ways and means to fulfill your dreams.
During the last six days, we have put our hands, our heads, and our hearts together, enduring the rain and the storm to try to make Rotary, in the words of President Ray, bigger, better, and bolder. But as we look to the future, our task becomes even bigger and bolder with the call from our President-elect Kalyan Banerjee to Reach Within to Embrace Humanity. Today, we embrace this challenge and reaffirm our belief in the core values through which so much has been accomplished — the lives that have been saved, the hearts that have been touched, and the future that shines brightly for Rotary, tomorrow and beyond.
But, after all, what indeed is Rotary? What indeed are our core values? Our core values are what have kept Rotary strong even after more than a hundred years: service, fellowship, diversity, integrity, and leadership.
As I stand here and look out upon the hundreds of white faces, dark faces, and yellow faces, intermingled like the waters of a river, I see only one face: I see you, the core of the Rotary movement, who will shape the future of Rotary for years to come. You are the diversity that builds our service, in fellowship, with integrity and leadership.
Service is of course our first core value: Service Above Self. Today, we embrace the world in which we serve. I think today the world needs Rotary far more than when the four men first met on that freezing night so long ago, because today Rotary offers a unique and precious light of hope in an already dim world with an ever-darkening horizon.
There is no doubt that the needs now are greater and more diverse than ever before. And the need for Rotary fellowship is ever growing, as it is through fellowship that Rotarians conquer the world’s challenges together. The challenges we face in making the world more equitable, over the broad range of human needs, amount indeed to a steep mountain to climb.
But we embrace the Rotary core value of leadership. And what is leadership? Leadership is rallying together the resources, the energy, the drive of many people, to see the job done — so that when it is done, the people will say, we did it ourselves.
After 10 long years of untiring efforts, the Land Mine Removal project in Cambodia, initiated by the Rotary Club of Tokyo, which later on became the project of all 34 districts in Japan, came to a successful conclusion on 5 February last year. From the project’s launch in October 1999 until its completion, 28 villages covering an area of 1.2 million square meters were cleared of land mines, enabling 56,500 people to settle down safely.
Does this not confirm our conviction that we must marshal our forces and take action on more acute problems that arise? Does it not show us that our Rotary leadership is sorely needed, and a potent force for change?
At the height of the political conflicts among the many countries in that region, I myself went to the locations of those land mines in 1976. Under the escort of the Khmer Rouge soldiers, who knew exactly where the land mines were buried, I went into Cambodia ona top-secret mission and without any arms escort for a dialogue with my counterpart, the then deputy prime minister and foreign minister of the Khmer Rouge, Ieng Sary, who is still very much alive today and standing on trial as a war criminal in Phnom Penh.
But I couldn’t do much. No one could do anything at all while the political situation was still uncertain and Pol Pot, the top Khmer Rouge leader, was still in power. I had no idea then and never dreamed that the very subject I discussed with the Khmer Rouge leader so long ago would one day, after 35 years, be a topic I am speaking to you about now and become a project — a challenge — that would involve so many Rotary clubs and Rotarians around the world.
I am now thinking of one poor Thai farmer who lives in a small village near the Cambodian border. In the late 1980s, he lost one of his legs by stepping on a land mine while he was looking for food in the forest. He had a wife and a baby daughter to support. But after the accident, his wife could not overcome her fear about what the future might bring — she left and was never heard from again! He was left with no leg, no wife, and the huge responsibility of supporting a child. Having some knowledge in carpentry, he built himself a crude artificial leg and got whatever job he could. His awful leg constantly plagued him and gave him much pain. But it was better than no leg at all!
When the local Rotary clubs in the area heard about the plight of this man and his misfor- tune, they reached within themselves and became involved and, with the support of
The Rotary Foundation and clubs around the world, provided him and other amputees with a high quality, properly fitting artificial limb. The new leg gave him new energy and new confidence. He got a better and steady job, and his daughter was able to go to school and graduated. A happy ending!
And it so happened that her graduation day was also his birthday, a triumphant day for both of them. They had struggled so hard together and come so far. To mark the occasion, the girl wanted to give her father a present. Being so poor, she had nothing but a picture of them when she was a little girl. But on the back of the picture, she wrote a note more precious to him than any expensive gift. She wrote: “Dad, we will now walk together.”
The girl went on to become a nurse, to marry and have a child of her own. Now, she is able to support her father, and they do indeed walk together. My friends, because of the desire to serve that is within us, we also walk with this man and thousands of others like him.
Thoughtfulness of and helpfulness to others is indeed the noble ideal of Rotary. And we do not need to be wealthy, we do not need to be famous, to be able to achieve this ideal. We need only to reach within.
Years ago, when I first ran for public service in my country, my campaign duties included delivering speeches from the back of a truck. One night, very late, we were at a stop in a poor slum. We had quite a crowd there who were still waiting at that late hour to hear from us. I had to shout to be heard. At the conclusion of my speech, I was shaking hands with the people when a youngster gently pushed his way to the front of the crowd, calling to me, “Uncle, Uncle.” He was holding a little paper cone filled with bits of sugar cane. He offered it to me, saying, “After so much talking, you must be very thirsty.” I was indeed very thirsty!
Now, to think that child had so little, and yet he found an opportunity to serve. He had the means to soothe the scratchy throat of a tired politician, and he offered it, freely and gladly. This small act of thoughtfulness planted a seed in my heart that has grown over the years. I think of this boy and his simple gesture, and I am inspired to ask myself, “Can I be this thoughtful?” How many of us who have chosen to be a part of this great service organization are as kind as this in our daily lives? How many of us remember to think of others first and to think of ourselves in terms of what we can do for others? Only you can tell!
My dear friends, Rotary certainly is not a spectacular organization because it works from man to man, and its achievements are not always recognized by contemporaries. But I think that Rotary has in its possession one of the most precious commodities, of which we have failed to see the uniqueness and which we have failed to utilize and practice. Yes, I am referring to Vocational Service, through which I sincerely believe that we as Rotarians can act best and contribute most, to improve not only ourselves but the society in which we live.
Indeed, Rotary can pride itself on how it has weathered the storms with distinction through many humanitarian and educational programs. And yet, it is important to recognize that although we have made significant progress in the many areas of human activity, many corrupt practices continue to prevail in our business and professional lives as they did at the beginning of the last century when Rotary was created.
Amorality, shady business, illegal profits, and legal and ethical infractions unfortunately are spreading rapidly across society in spite of being fought against and reproached. How can we divert this trend, or at least do something to prevent it from spreading out further in society and even in Rotary? Through our final core value, integrity.
Remind your clubs that professional relations are founded upon the individual; upon his or her understanding of the importance that he or she personally assumes as someone able to unleash useful action proven to benefit others; upon the honesty of his or her goals and the value that a person gives to ethics; upon the sanctity of the promised word and the manifestation of a cooperative and united attitude in relations among people.
Remind your clubs that in this contradictory world in which the majority of people are more concerned with having than with being, that this great challenge is entrusted upon Rotary and upon each one of us!
From what I have said, you will see what Rotary has been proposing throughout its exis- tence: developing a person’s potential and working with a sense of dignity and honesty in all useful occupations.
Perhaps the first difficulty in this challenge to surmount is to help the Rotarians in your district to clearly understand what vocational service means in Rotary. At least tell them that They Profit Most Who Serve Best is not simply a slogan. It is the most practical answer that we have to ennoble the behavior that the ideal of service dictates to us.
Vocational service is, without doubt, the foundation of all Rotary — an activity that can only be demonstrated through the example that each one of us can give through our behavior, and our conviction that is a guiding principle in one’s life.
And with that conviction I have come to see that Rotary should address itself both in thought and in action, because unless the ideals we profess and exemplify can become flesh of our flesh, can become bone of our bone, can become life, can become action, and can become power, there is truly no hope for us!
Let me say without hesitation: Membership is the greatest asset of our organization, and this has been the work of Rotarians. Having said this, we must always keep in mind that the most important element is qualified members. The qualifications of a prospective member must be beyond any doubt. My fellow Rotarians, the fact that our membership is made up of such diverse professions and business classifications ensures us a many-sided approach to any given problem.
It was in the late 1960s that I had the privilege of visiting for the first time the old RI Sec- retariat on Ridge Avenue in Evanston, not far from the present headquarters. George R. Means was then the general secretary and a very, very efficient one. Everywhere in that building was the feeling of action — not just busy work but meaningful action — new plans, new hopes, and new possibilities for service. But nowhere was this feeling stronger than when I was admitted to the Paul Harris Room! This is the office that has been carefully reproduced to the point that every picture on the wall has been hung to within 1.6 millimeters of where it had been in Paul Harris’s original office in downtown Chicago. Even then, in the quiet solitude of what almost seemed to be a chapel, I felt the great power of the Rotary ideal of service in action.
I was told that it would be permissible for me to pull out the chair and sit at Paul Harris’s desk! I looked very hard at the desk. I looked very hard at the chair. I looked very hard on the wall behind the desk that says: “If a man has a thousand friends, he has not one to spare.” My eye looked at this unique organization of members from so many lands, com- mitted all to the ideal of answering the call to serve. I then thought of the many times in my own life when I had refused to answer that call. I thought of that little lad in the slum who had so little, yet he had the desire to serve a tired politician. I am thinking now of the Thai Rotarian Yongchai Surapantanakorn, who lost his life on his way home from an NID [National Immunization Day], saving the other passengers when their boat capsized.
No, I could not sit in that chair!
My fellow Rotarians, in just a few hours from now, the final curtain of this International Assembly will descend, and like all good things they are limited in supply and parting is al- ways a sad experience. Looking back to the 53 long years of my Rotary service, and now at 85, I am now at the end of my long Rotary journey. Without knowing how many years are left, I hope my health will permit me to continue to serve until it hurts! However that may be, and whatever may befall, I am sure that I shall never forget the emotions of this day or be able to express my gratitude to you and to those colleagues of mine who have all gone before me, with whom I have lived my life.
When you return home, you will have many stories to tell your friends. But whatever the story you may want to tell them, please tell them this: In San Diego, California, there is a church with a statue of Jesus outside. Thirty years ago, the hands of that statue were broken off by vandals. Instead of repairing the statue and replacing the hands, the church decided to add a plaque. It bears the words, “I have no hands but yours.”
My dear friends, you are the hands of Rotary. I now leave you, not knowing when our paths will cross again, but with all my heart I wish you a successful and reward- ing year as you Reach Within to Embrace Humanity!