Goodwill across borders found in the Rotary principles of Service and Relationships

By Brigadier General Jack Briggs

Editor’s Note: The following is a portion of the key note address given at the Gala Banquet Dinner of the 87th Rotary International Goodwill Weekend held on February 17-18, 2012.  

As I prepared for tonight’s talk I thought I would do a little research on you. You can’t get very far looking at information about a Rotary club without getting the message – you are about service.  Service above self!

Now that struck a chord with me since one of the United States air force core values is service before self.

You measure yourselves by the yardstick of service.  I try to do the same.  Often I am referred to as being in “the service.”

What does that mean?

There are so many examples in each of our lives and since both our organization specializes in service, I thought you might be interested in one of my very best stories of “service above self”.

Regardless of your politics or thoughts on international conflict, I want you to know how proud you can be of who you are as a people.  The selfless sacrifice I watched everyday confirms my opinion that our western democratic society (for all its shortcomings) instills an unmatched virtue of compassion in its people.  The military do this in the name of “the service”; you do it in the name of service itself.

People are drawn to the idea of service.  I see it in airports in the U.S. and Canada when I am in uniform.

“Thank you for your service”

You won’t hear it enough from the public at large because you don’t where a very distinctive uniform for people to identify so let me take the opportunity to say “thank you for your service.”

The second impression you get quickly when you research a Rotary club is an organization built on relationships.  This audience tonight is here because of the relationships you have with each other, bi-nationally in a common cause.  Again, me too.

This year our nations will celebrate 54 years of bi-national operations in the defense of the skies of North America.

Relationships are why we get up in the morning.  One of my core principles in life is that people matter and projects don’t.  I would like to do a little audience exercise.

Please everyone think back to the last few days in your own life.  If you give you mind some time to settle, I almost guarantee you didn’t start thinking about your car or taking the garbage out or a project at work.  Instead I bet you started thinking about someone you knew.  Someone you love or miss or want to know better.  Maybe you are thinking about someone in your business relationships or extended family or someone in this very room or at your table or the seat next to you but whoever that is means he or she matters to you in some way.  For the guys in the room, when you play the “who did you think of game” with your spouse on the way home I will simply remind you that it was Valentine’s Day last week.  Enough said.

Now I mentioned I did a little research on Rotary and I have come to a very basic conclusion.

It seems to me the basic unspoken mission of Rotary is to enhance relationships through service.  What happens when you build a relationship can only be described as magic.  Without a relationship, tasks can be dreaded chores.  Helping total strangers can be tough.  On the other hand, when you build a relationship with a person, it becomes almost impossible for you to walk by their problems and not want to help.  You are drawn into their service and helping them becomes an act you fight to do.  I bet if I asked each of you in this room, when you help someone you have a relationship with, you will tell me you get more back than you give.  Magic.

That is why this meeting each year is important.  You build relationships beyond the ordinary and make them extraordinary parts of your life.  It is something to look forward to, regardless of the effort.

The U.S.-Canada relation isn’t just an ordinary one either.  It is built on decades of relationship building to a point it is now almost taken for granted and seamless.  How seamless do you ask?  How about 9/11?  On that day when my nation was attacked, many people don’t know that it was a Canadian general officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado on duty at NORAD that led the defense of both nations.

How many of you know the unknown fate of thousands of airline passengers who landed in small airports across Canada?  Because of our relationships, Canadian families heard what was happening and got in their cars and drove to the airports to take these refugees into their homes, no questions asked.

That is why it is a privilege to serve in this position in Winnipeg today.  It is my opportunity to pay back in just a very small way my personal debt of gratitude to the people of Canada for being there when we needed support on the battlefield.

Service and relationships – that is the theme of your annual meeting and tonight’s wonderful dinner.  Service and relationships are at the core of a Rotary club.

How do we spread the power of service and relationship?  You do it by leading by example.  People build relationships and serve others; this, in no small part, is because of the example organizations like Rotary carries to the public: an example of service and relationships.  Being drawn to something bigger than yourself in the service of other.  Service before self.  Have no doubt you help to create a magic spark in people’s lives because you choose to build relationships and act on those relationships with a spirit of service.  It is the most noble of human traits and again I applaud your example.

I see my time is coming to a close so I want to leave you with a challenge this evening.  Preparing for this evening challenged me to rethink the relationships in my life and how I serve them.  Challenge yourself to do the same.  The strength of your organization, your annual meeting, your service and your relationships will benefit from the collective exercise and make each area stronger.

Brigadier General Jack Briggs is the Deputy Commander, Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Region, and Deputy Commander for Operations, 1st Air Division, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Click HERE for full bio.

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