Why Age Shouldn’t Be a Membership Tool
Founded in 1905, Rotary International has long been a bastion of community service, international cooperation, and professional development. However, like many other organizations, it is not entirely free from internal challenges—one of which is the inappropriate use of age as a membership tool. Phrases like “you bring down our average age by 50 years” might seem innocuous but are fundamentally divisive and discriminatory. At the end of the day, we are all Rotarians committed to the same cause, and that’s where the discussion should end.
Using age as a metric for membership is a slippery slope that leads to divisions within the club. These divisions are not only disheartening but also run counter to the very essence of Rotary, which is to unite people from diverse backgrounds for a common goal: service above self. Age-based comments not only alienate members but also create an unnecessary hierarchy that could be damaging to the organization’s objectives.
Rotary’s motto is “Service Above Self,” a principle that knows no age. The idea that one age group is more capable of service than another is both inaccurate and unjust. The willingness to serve comes from a place of empathy and commitment, not chronological age. Utilizing age as a membership tool, even inadvertently, is an affront to this timeless principle.
One of the great strengths of Rotary is its ability to attract a diverse range of skills and perspectives. Older Rotarians bring decades of experience and institutional knowledge, while younger Rotarians often bring fresh ideas, enthusiasm, and technological savvy. This tapestry of abilities is what makes Rotary so effective at tackling a wide variety of challenges. When age becomes a point of focus, it dilutes the richness of these varied contributions.
At its core, Rotary is a mentorship organization. Older members guide newer, often younger, members through the ropes, providing them with the tools they need to succeed both within the organization and in their own professional lives. Similarly, younger members bring new skills and viewpoints that help the organization adapt to changing times. This invaluable intergenerational bond is weakened when age is emphasized over skill or commitment.
Let’s remember today’s younger Rotarians are tomorrow’s leaders. Using age as a membership gauge can discourage younger individuals from joining, creating a leadership vacuum in the long run. This is not just harmful to Rotary but also to the communities it serves. The message should be one of inclusivity, inviting all ages to contribute their unique skills and perspectives.
Rotary offers a wealth of benefits to all members, irrespective of age. These benefits are universal, from networking opportunities and professional development to the simple joy of community service. Coding them in terms of age diminishes their value and appeal.
Ageist comments and practices do more than alienate individual members; they perpetuate societal stereotypes about what people of certain ages can or cannot do. This is harmful not just within the confines of Rotary but also in the wider world, where these stereotypes can limit opportunities and potential for both young and old.
Rotary International is built on four core principles: promoting peace, fighting disease, providing clean water and sanitation, and supporting education. None of these goals have age restrictions. They require the collective effort of all Rotarians, bound together by a shared commitment to service and community improvement. The moment we introduce age as a criterion, we stray from these universal principles.
The essence of being a Rotarian is not captured in how many years we’ve lived but in how we choose to live those years. Using age as a tool for membership not only undermines the unity and efficacy of the organization but also tarnishes its core principles. As we work together to serve our communities and the broader world, remember that we are Rotarians first and foremost. And that’s where the discussion should rightfully stop.