Revolution: It’s a Question of Truth

Jborstby John Borst, Communications

Rotarians are justifiably proud of the principles embedded in their “Four Way Test”. None is more important than the very first question “Is it the TRUTH?”. Are not the very concepts of freedom and dignity of the human person foundational to the conception of Truth?

With the Council on Legislation getting under way this week the question of Rotary as a “democratic institution” once again comes to the fore. Clearly, when one reads the proposed 2016 “enactments and resolutions”1 one is impressed with the democratic nature of the Council.

Yet when the question of how Rotary is governed as an institution comes head to head with the question of “Truth” the reality present at the Council disappears and another reality punctures the air.

COL-2016-373x300Let’s look at the preparation for the Council as an example. The deadline for enactments and resolutions was 31 December 2014, that is a full one year, three months and 9 days (or 455) days ago. I’ll dispense with the rational for this overly long lead-up time because even as Communications Director for the District, I still do not know who the District delegate is nor have I participated in any discussion at any level of any enactment or resolution. Wouldn’t you think members through their clubs should have been informed of the proposals and their input sought so their delegate might have at least known where the general membership stood? In principle democracy rests with the membership and it shouldn’t be in name only.

But nowhere is the gap between truth and democratic reality larger than in the so called “election” of the Rotary President. Let’s take a look at some of the barriers which have evolved to make the process closed rather than open.

a) The formal “qualifications” bar has steadily been raised, Club President, District Governor, R I Director;

b) The unwritten roles expected to be completed before qualification at each of the formal levels has multiplied, with Zone duties paramount for consideration as an RI director;

c) The importance of being a Major Donor to the Rotary Foundation is a recent criterion which eliminates 99% of rank and file members;

d) The use of nominating committees at the District and International levels with the mandate to choose only ONE “most qualified” candidate from among those qualified;

e) The use of only Past District Governors and Past RI Directors as members of their respective Nominating Committee membership;

d) The continued over-whelming maleness of the RI Nominating committee membership, a fact which is unlikely to be reversed in this Century and which continues to ensure that the glass ceiling to the nomination of a woman as president will remain very thick for decades to come;

e) The unwritten rule that Past RI Directors still need to, over many years, fill other roles, such as RI Committee chair, Foundation Trustee chair, or International Conference chair;

f) And finally there is the most egregious of anti-democratic rules on the books…the banning of qualified members from campaigning and the banning of members campaigning on behalf of any candidate.

It is time Rotary returned to its historical roots. In its early days Rotarians elected their president at an annual convention. There was more than one candidate and campaigning was a part of the process.

Yes it was messy but the “truth” is democracy is a messy process.

Rotary is an American cultural invention and like American democracy itself it is imbued with a heavy dose of myth making to sustain itself. Hence, Rotary’s elitist nomination system is the ‘noble falsehood’ honed to preserve a façade of democracy within an institutional oligarchy.

Perhaps no national Presidential election is messier than that in the USA and this year’s is more convoluted than normal because each of the dominant parties has a candidate who is breaking the rules. Trump doesn’t do myth because celebrity is myth while Bernie Sanders spends his time calling out the myth for what it is, a plutocracy of the moneyed elite. In doing so, it is candidate Bernie Sanders who has best articulated what Rotary needs. He is calling for nothing less than a “revolution” in American politics.  A revolution is what Rotary needs too.


1 A proposed enactment seeks to amend the RI constitutional documents. A proposed resolution is any item that seeks to amend other RI policies and procedures.


About John Borst

John Borst’s career in education spans the years 1960 to 1996. During those 36 years, he spent an equal amount of time working int he English language, Public and Catholic school boards. Borst taught in both elementary and high school environments. Positions of responsibilities held included department head in Geography, curriculum coordinator of Social and Environmental Studies, Principal, Education Officer with the Ministry of Education, Superintendent of Schools, and Superintendent of Student Services. Borst retired in 1996 as Director of Education for the legacy Dryden Board of Education. During this time, Borst has lived in the Ontario communities of Brampton, Toronto, Newmarket, Thunder Bay, Aurora and Dryden. Currently, Borst splits his time between Dryden and Toronto. Since retirement, Borst has served as a Supervisory Officer with a remote School Authority; been a freelance writer of articles on education in particular for Education Today, the magazine of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA); founded and edited from 2006 - 2010 the Education blog Tomorrow’s Trust: A Review of Catholic Education; and from 2003-2010 was a trustee of the Northwest Catholic District School Board.
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5 Responses to Revolution: It’s a Question of Truth

  1. I think that opening the process is a good thing! As a new Rotary member and already President of my Club I am not fully aware of all of the rules and procedures required by the Rotary International organization but, it seems to me that although Democracy is at times ‘messy’, it is an evil that we need to live with.

  2. Kenneth Lane says:

    Effectively positioned perspective, perhaps weakened by referencing a political candidate with every appearance of being a Marxist . . . Marx who also decried “the elites”. There is always room for improvement, but let us not ignore the tremendous benefits R.I. has served up, along with a sterling reputation, that in no small way is because of how it has operated for over 100 years.

    • noronwe says:

      Mr Lane , referencing Sanders as a Marxist betrays your perspective as from another age. Rotary is bending over backwards to attract a more youthful membership. It appears candidate Sanders has found the magic elixer which attracts youth. Perhaps it is those very Marxist ideas to which you refer.

  3. Richard Larson says:

    Your comments are very timely. More often than not, many of those at the top don’t want change of any kind. This can also be true at the club level. Richard J. Larson

  4. Democracy, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. Searching such fonts of wisdom as the Oxford dictionary, wikipedia and google throws up a variety of version of governance that essentially sees a necessary link between all of those governed and those who govern. This link can be direct or through elected representatives but by whatever mechanism the state or organisation must be responsive to the governed. Those few of us living in democracies with a free press and secret ballots in which all members of the population must vote and have an equal influence on the outcome can rest easy. But I am unaware of any “democracy” where such a utopian regime prevails. Countless versions of notional democracies exist in which voting is greatly affected by wealth, privilege, locality, race, gender and membership of favoured parties and organisations. To me the key to democracy is responsiveness.

    Are the actions of the rulers responsive to the concerns and interests of those ruled? There are many examples of dictatorial regimes who were very adept at reflecting the wishes of their subjects to remain in power and many examples of notional democracies that have taken this to mean ‘dictatorship by the majority’ or which have skewed the composition of the electorate to get the ‘right’ answer.

    ‘One Man, one vote’ (pun intended) is just one way of enacting democracy and it is a sad indictment of Rotary’s perceived unresponsiveness if we accept a system of governance that is so out out of touch with the wishes of current, and more importantly future members, that we see the only answer lying in the mortality of our current leadership teams. If they are to be truly responsive, they must move faster beyond the framework that perpetuates their influence and leadership and force all of us to share the responsibilities of leadership. I would imagine this will cause discomfort and creative tension all round – so be it!

    Ian Foster PP PHF
    Gungahlin Club, Canberra

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