E-mails and more curtains

My Dear Rotarians and friends, in particular my Action Presidents,

I had promised a past president some weeks ago to discuss e-mail protocol in this series. For some reasons, I have yet to do that. Something happened this week and I decided to deal with the matter now.

Let me go back to the very beginning. President Bill Benter, our hardworking and selfless District Webmaster has been keen to improve communication between members in the District, in particular, between Action Presidents and District Officials. He had a few lists set up and devised a mechanism to send out messages to all members on these lists as and when required. We were somewhat conservative in the beginning, and I had suggested that maybe only a few persons should be allowed to use the mechanism, including the Governor, Governor-elect, Information Coordinator and of course the Webmaster himself. After a presentation at a Joint Presidents’ Meeting, it was decided to open up the lists of presidents and district officials to all presidents and committee chairmen for messages of general public interest, while the Governor alone could use the global list.

The system worked rather well. The Webmaster detected no obvious abuses or problems. There were a few cases where the system was used for messages affecting only one or two clubs, but the situation was not too serious. Round about the Chinese New Year holidays, many members received repeated congratulatory e-mail messages from a company that was known to be operated by a Rotarian. Very often, they were accompanied by promotional messages related to the activities of the company. A number of members were upset and had called me. I talked to the Rotarian in question. He explained that he was simply volunteering his services free, adding that recipients had the option of having their names removed by following the instructions. The matter quietened down not long afterwards.

Early last week, most Rotarians in the District with an e-mail address received a message on a certain country and how to get there. One Rotarian who was obviously not amused suggested that the sender either had access to our global list or had broken into our system. Webmaster Bill stepped in. He found that the sender had somehow copied many of the e-mail addresses of Rotarians somewhere and began sending out messages. A few presidents were apparently upset and e-mailed back, which led to more exchanges, but which had neither helped the people involved nor the causes they professed they tried to uphold.

I actually sent the sender a message and invited him for a meeting so that we could discuss Rotary, for he said that he was a member of a Rotary club in our District. He thanked my message, but did not take up my offer.

There are a few issues here. First, who has the right to use whose e-mail address and when? Second, how does one deal with unwelcome or junk e-mail? Third, when is a message a service as opposed to an advertisement for services? There are others, including some legal ones.

It will be awfully difficult and painful to analyse every angle, but one thing is clear: this mode of communication will stay with us for a while if not forever. It follows that we’d better learn to deal with it and the accompanying facets as soon as possible if we are determined to use it to our advantage instead of being used by it. It reminds me of the days when I had to deal with complaints on television advertisement and programming. Television programmes were free at the time and the most effective censure actually rested with the viewers for they could vote with their remote control buttons. However, many viewers simply complained to the authority and called for more regulation and controls.

Webmasters have a difficult job already without having to deal with complaints. In our case, Bill Benter has actually been doing this for free. Although we have provided him with a budget, we have not been charged for most of the expenses, and we all should be grateful for that. He has put on the website the protocol promulgated by Rotary International so that users can better use the website for the common good. But what does one do when one is upset by unwanted messages or irritating ones. I have since developed a simple and effective censure. I would simply ignore senders of these messages. Have you heard that the opposite of love is not hatred, but rather, indifference?

Think of these messages as virus-infected ones that one would delete on sight without opening anyway. I remember when certain viruses were raging in the District not long ago; I had to delete over 50 messages routinely each day, many purportedly from President Frank Devlyn and President-elect Rick King. The alternative of asking the authorities to regulate is fraud with problems. To start with, who are the authorities? What can they do?

I think we have a good system going. It has worked well for most of us most of the time. As business and professional people, and as Rotarians, we can tolerate occasional imperfections. Let them remind one that life is never meant to be perfect.

Talking of life not being meant to be perfect, and at the risk of upsetting some of you, let me update you on the latest conditions of Rosita.

It happened on 2 March, the day the Rotary Club of Hong Kong celebrated 70 years of Rotary in Hong Kong. The latest tests showed that some nodules in the liver had grown and that new shades developed in the lung. This means that the three-month switch from chemotherapy to hormone treatment had not worked. The doctors proposed switching back to chemotherapy, but using different drugs. Since we had used the first-line drugs the first time round, it means that we would have to use the second-line drugs at best, and with a lower percentile success rate. Naturally, we were rather upset, and Rosita decided not to attend that evening’s function. President Vernon Moore showed understanding and was supportive, as were a few friends to whom I broke the news that evening. I am very grateful to all of them.

We have since discussed the treatment regime further and have taken advice from the doctors. Our plan is to re-start chemotherapy from next week. The nature of one of the drugs is such that it had to be administered over long hours, which means that Rosita would need to be hospitalized for a few days at a time. It would mean that she would need to cut down further her social activities, including the daily morning exercises in the park that she has been enjoying for the past two months. Worse, she has been advised that she will unlikely be fit enough to travel to Berkeley in May for Stephanie’s graduation.

This is a repeat of what happened some eight months ago, except that this time round, we are more prepared and determined than before to fight back. Rosita has not been the weaker in spirit since 2 March. Indeed the consultant oncologist has been all praises about her fighting spirit. She can still joke about her conditions, and she is even more positive about life than before. I used to think that if I believed she would be cured completely, she would, and I thought optimism would help. She has since explained to me and I have learnt that what I thought was unrealistic and was akin to denial, which would not help her or me. The theory is this. If one believes (unrealistically) that the cancer will go away, it would have the effect of diminishing the fighting spirit of both the patient and the family. So, my friend, think about it that way and pray for us. It was curtains for me on 2 March, but after the curtain lectures, it is not curtains after all.

And what is a curtain lecture? This is a lecture or homily delivered by a wife to her husband when in bed, upon the shortcomings and errors of his daily life. In “Sketch-book for Rip Van Winkle” Washington Irving wrote, “a curtain-lecture is worth all the sermons in the world for teaching the virtues of patience and long-suffering.” I hope you learn to enjoy your curtain lectures.

Talk to you soon.

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