As I look ahead and prepare for the next year as president of the Rotary Club of Milwaukee, I find myself reflecting on how Rotary, and Rotarians can create space for truth. Any success is the product of a thousand small failures and while I know we may not get this completely right, it certainly is our responsibility to try.
Truth is not a unicorn bounding hapily through some far away and mythical land. The conditions of objective truth are met without biases, partiality or prejudice. Now more than ever, society possess the tools to Insta-Book-Tweet and become the arbiter of “truth” without consideration of neutrality. We increasingly rely on individual subjectivity to seek what divides us instead of embracing our commonalities and shared humanity. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of mainstream and social media where one can find any version of truth they prefer.
Today, we have allowed technology to remove this humanity from our conduct within society. We bully one another with impunity, refusing to eat our mental vegetables by only consuming the information that reinforces our own self interests. We respond to posts with language one would never choose when in person.
Our world is steaming toward the iceberg of division. Across the globe, nations are erecting walls, the most dangerous of which are within our own borders. Nationalism is weakening shared human thought and partisan aggression is breaking our hard won friendships. One could ask how we’ve advanced to a place of fear and aversion to our differences.
The American experiment is still that, a laboratory of ideas, yet much of society insists on running with a pair of well sharpened and self-serving scissors. Entitlement and avarice are pervasive tenants in how our interactions seem to be conducted. We expect to be fulfilled immediately with our cerebral world collapsing when free two day shipping shows up a day late on Sunday. Remarkably, we somehow feel deserving of outrage when the barista mistakenly ruins our latte by substituting soy for coconut. Anger has become our new happiness. It feels good to be angry because anger reinforces that we are right, and we all want to be right. Right?
But is this really beneficial to all concerned? Fair to ourselves? Our neighbors? Hopefully we can all walk out the other side of this pandemic woods blessed with a shift in perspective. Personally, having to eat my own cooking for 4 months certainly has me longing to cheerfully walk away with that soy milk latte.
Our lens must always be wide enough to reject acute perspective and observation. We must understand that our mechanisms are not broken, they provide the outcomes we’ve designed them to produce because a fundamental complacency persists with the results. It has become popular, for the agents of change to demand in defiant tone, a revolution in the process, the “how” by which we craft the mechanisms of our society. Results are not failed by methods. Negation allows our machines to lumber on without change in result, reinforcing this manufacture of contentment. I argue that it is a pervasive disregard of our “why” that erodes the humanity of civic life and liberty. Our why must live in the space of truth where we can only hope to change the result by embracing unity, patience and selflessness.
So where then do we find our islands of truth and expression? Rotary was founded on, and must remain a domain of experimental thought. Where all opinions are treated equally and the space for their discussion provided without prejudice or preconception. Truth is not a world view. Truth is not opinion. It is only upheld through rigorous defense and respect of collective experience.
Rotary has never harbored the manipulation of truth, the encouragement of disdain or a demand for being “right”. But this is no accident. It is the foundation behind everything we do. Is it the truth? The four way test established a space for truth to lead the members of over 35,000 clubs to improve their communities, promote economic attainment, realize the improvement of education, repress institutional racism, implement clean water and sanitation, endorse the diversity of ideas, and remain at the forefront of world health. Rotary remains uniquely centered on our diversity and has always defended and aspired to a place of “we” over “us and them”. Together, with a focus on prioritizing transparency, humility and empathy, we can all help promote the ubiquity of truth.
There are many thanks to give. I wish to thank our board and committee chairs. With continual amazement I remain fortunate, having been granted audience to their tireless commitment to our city. Their passion for equity, humanity, fairness and defense of truth is honorable. To past presidents; Rick White who’s invitation to RCM still hangs on my office wall, to Nancy Sennett who’s invitation to the board empowered me to consume Rotary on the deepest of levels, to JoAnne Anton who’s grace, radiant smile and passion for Milwaukee continually inspires me to find the better parts of myself, to Ed Krishok who saw a future Rotary club president in me, an honor I will humbly cherish and seek to reverently uphold. To President Steve Chevalier, our club remains deeply indebted to your poise and stately leadership through this unprecedented time. To Mary McCormick, your stoicism, knowledge and dedication are profound and remain the hallmark of this club’s success.
And thank you to our members. You are Rotary! Our club, with your help and the help of those before us, will continue to make a difference in our community, in ourselves and in the communities of more than 200 other countries across the globe.