I am a dinosaur. I am a dinosaur in that I am nostalgic for what seems to me to be a golden time. A time when family and communities were united.
Civil institutions like Rotary, the Scouts, the Guides, the churches, the school committee, the residents’ committees, community organisations, etc, were strong.

That seems like a golden age of stability to me which has been lost ... but, of course, a person like me could never have existed in that kind of environment. The price for that kind of stability was conformity.

Today, these institutions are no longer strong, but people like me, and others on the margin, are free to exist, and even flourish. It is no longer a homogeneous society ... but, there is a price to be paid for that, also.

People today are more isolated, more depressed. Nowadays, there is only the individual, and the government. No longer are there the layers in society that connected us all and made us feel that we belong.    
There is a saying in one of the women’s development courses that I go on: “You cannot become yourself by yourself”. I know that is very true for me. When I decided to come out as transgender and finally be myself, I envisioned a fairly isolated and detached life.

The outcome was far from that. The support I got from my Rotary colleagues was truly awe-inspiring and amazing. It brought tears to my eyes, and those of my wife. We were blown away. They really went out of the way to support us and make us feel that we belonged.

That kind of support helped me be the person I am today. Their support gave me more confidence and courage to truly be myself. Truly, I did not become myself by myself.

However admirable that support was (and it was vital to Joan and me), it is the dying kick of an organisation. Rotary is dying, as are all the civil society organisations. That kind of support will no longer be there. That kind of support was built by working together to solve real problems. Working with somebody (especially in a charitable/voluntary situation) gives you the measure of that person.

Nowadays, people have busy schedules, people do not want to join organisations, people do not want to commit ... radical individualism is the dominant culture.

Yet, people want to connect. They spend an inordinate amount of time on Facebook connecting. I should know. I have 250 friends on Facebook. The thing is that many Facebook friends you only know by name; you do not know their measure, their trustworthiness, their real value to you. When I came out, I had loads of support messages from people on Facebook who I barely knew. But the ones that made any difference to me were from those I had met and had spent time working with and getting to know. Those were the ones whose support really mattered.

So, in coming to the presidency of Rotary next year in Queenstown, I come with more questions than answers. In a Facebook age, how do we structure things where we can build that kind of support? How do we structure things in a modern Facebook society to supply the things the modern generation really wants ... trustworthiness and authenticity in relationships?

We can only do it by experimenting, and experimenting while the organisation that we know dies around us. The new Rotary, if we ever get there, will be very different from the old one. I won’t solve the problem in my year. It will be ongoing for many years yet; but, with your support, and the support of others in the Rotary family, I will give it my best shot.

Service above Self is our motto ... it is up to all of us to give the example by living up to it.

As Muhammad Ali said: “Service to others is the rent we pay for our room on the planet!”    
Posted September 29, 2016