Only Friends Can Hurt You

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

A very good friend of a very good friend of mine sent our mutual friend a list of things that one might learn or should learn from life. My very good friend shared that with me. It is a long list, easily over 12 items, covering nearly the whole of an A4 in point 14 in Times New Roman font. Each item is written beautifully and obviously well thought out. They are all very good. It would be tempting to reprint it all here, which I might do one of these days, but I have chosen to pick out the one thing on the list that I feel for most at the time, which is, “I’ve learned that no matter how good a friend is, they’re going to hurt you every once in a while and you must forgive them for that.”

If you are reaching for your writing pad to scribble a few names, I suggest you don’t. I hope you won’t, lest the words of this very good friend of my very good friend would become simply whispers on the wall.

Friends are perhaps the best thing a person can come across in life. They are there to love us and share our lives. They cheer us up when we are down, hold us back when we are going too fast, share our joys and sorrows, our hopes, fears and expectation, and so on. My very good friend said that friends are gifts from God. I agree. All good things come from God. It is thus one goes through life meeting lots of people, but hopefully making a few friends. The distinction is important and can best be illustrated by a one-liner in a docu-drama attributed to the daughter of the late Onassis, “Some people collect stamps, others collect money, my father collects people.”

Since friends are gifts, it follows that one would never know when one would meet friends, or the real good friends. In practice, people look for friends. The laws of nature are such that people’s extrinsic qualities tend to attract the type of friends who attach importance to those exhibited qualities or what they represent. That is why we often hear that some people tend to attract the wrong friends. Rotary is of course about friends.

Rotary is also about love. It is for love that all our programs – or menu of service opportunities – have been designed and implemented. It is love that has motivated countless Rotarians and their families to continue with these programs, selflessly, yet professionally. Nearly a century ago, a lonely Paul Harris was looking for friends. He called up three business associates for a business meeting, but his objective was clear. He was looking for friends and friendship. The four became friends and the rest is history.

We now hear that Rotary and other service organizations are losing members. At Evanston, experienced and senior Rotarians discussed and reviewed what went wrong and urged districts worldwide to redouble their membership extension and development efforts. In the same breath, we are reminded not to lower our standards in the recruitment. We must bring in quality members, is what we have been tasked. True, we must continue to do that, but personally, I find it most disturbing at suggestions that perhaps our mode of operation is no longer relevant in the present day and age, or does not appeal to the younger generations. Let me elaborate.

If Rotary is about making friends, continuing and consistent decline or non-increase in membership could suggest that friends might no longer be relevant in the 21st Century. If Rotary is love, it would suggest that love is no longer popular or essential. I shudder at the thought, for I was brought up to cherish ideas that love is the only logical answer to human existence, or love makes the world go around, or even love is a many splendoured thing.

No, I don’t believe that the world can go on meaningfully without friends and love. I believe that the world will continue to need Rotary. But as I have reminded my Action Presidents-elect and their team members, there will be frustrations in their Rotary career when they would feel let down, betrayed and hurt by none other than their fellow Rotarians. Indeed, a corollary to the statement from the friend is this. Only friends can hurt us. Most of us grown-ups – sorry, no definition for grown-ups – have developed some form of defensive mechanism, some more elaborate than others, that could respond to enemy attacks. However, the system is normally put in idle mode when one is between friends, and the rest follows.

So my friends, welcome your friends and embrace them even when they hurt you, for it would happen again and again. Learn “Et tu, Brute,” but don’t fall after each attack for good. The test of a man is how long it takes to rise again and how.

Before I sign off, I would like to let you know that my ISP has advised that I should not send messages to more than 100 addresses at a time. The result is that I cannot use one mailing list to distribute my letters. I have since revamped the mailing lists and tried to cut out overlaps between lists. This is an attempt to improve service. If you find you are receiving one message more than once, please let me know.

Talk to you soon.

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