Is Rotary a Port in a World of Storms and Loneliness?

By Ron Goodenow
Let's face it, folks.There are days when we turn on the television or hit the web in the morning, and see chaos: Washington, haywire; and, cable news, running at the mouth. Many of us have visions of "The Russians Are Coming." If only we had a Jonathan Winters or an Alan Arkin  to  light up our day. And, if truth be told, we awaken with more personal burdens. illness, a sick or dying relative, business pressures, partner problems, and plain old high blood pressure.
Some of us are far more fortunate, but even the lucky these days worry about something it seems. My doctor tells me she had a number of blood-pressure patients who were stressed out by politics. Many of us - particularly, guys, according to research - load a lot of anxiety on top of being lonely. Loneliness and isolation are now becoming public-health concerns. Hardly a day goes by when we do not hear of either neighbors or relatives committing suicide out of despair and loneliness.
So what does this mean for Rotary? And, whether you are a Rotarian or a prospective one?  o be realistic about it, can Rotary cure loneliness and reduce anxiety? Is all that fellowship a stress-saver? Time for some data to provide a very informative set of clues because the news could be very good if we think about it and act on it.
On March 9, Billy Baker wrote a front-page article in The Boston Globe, setting off quite a bit of discussion: “Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general of the United States, has said many times in recent years that the most prevalent health issue in the country is not cancer or heart disease or obesity. It is isolation. Now consider that in the United States, nearly a third of people older than 65 live alone; by age 85, that has jumped to about half. Men need an activity together to make and keep a bond. Women can maintain friendships over the phone.“
Benjamin Gottlieb and Alayna Gilespie, in Volunteerism, Health, and Civic Engagement among Older Adults*, write, "In North America, 40 to 50 per cent of older adults are actively involved as formal volunteers in providing diverse health. We propose that older adult volunteers may enjoy good health and longevity because being useful to others instills a sense of being needed and valued."
With this as background  let's agree that Rotary can be a fine port, given what has been said, above. It wants your ship to land, and it wants you to be part of it. Certainly, it wants to you to go back to sea both healthy and productive.
But there is more to just being there, and that is not by any means solely your responsibility.
On the Rotary side, "being useful to others" is equivalent to "service above self." That means clubs must help all members, whether lonely and/or anxious, or not, have a clear path to service, to Rotary as well as to our local communities the world at large. And, all members must be ready to align service with their particular skills and interests in a shared effort.
Beyond this, clubs must be prepared to address directly stress and loneliness. For example, Westborough Rotarian Paul Reilly, CEO of ActiveRX, a national exercise company focusing on seniors, is offering two free Rotary classes a week for Westborough members. Westborough Rotary recently had as a speaker, a local author and life coach, whose book, Empowering YOU: 11 Ways to Shift Your Personal Paradigm, is the result of her own lifetime journey through change and challenge. Kimberley Bell brings lessons learned about becoming self fulfilled to both her readers and coaching clients. Great content for Rotary clubs.
Rotary needs to be sure that new members, regardless of age, are helped to become directly engaged in fulfilling activities. But it can’t forget senior ones. Do the sort of thing Paul Reilly does with exercise classes. Or, do what our district governors, Pat and Skip Doyle, did for me as a new member almost 10 years ago, when they encouraged me to integrate my interests in photography into everything I did. Not having the physical capacity to build either houses or playgrounds, I was able to expand to editing and web-building, and making a lot of friends by providing back-end support to many projects. Never a lonely moment! And, few dull ones! All members must find a niche that leads to social engagement and service.
To conclude, be sure to factor some "social psychology" into club planning and visioning. Think a bit categorically about your demographics and especially Rotarians who may seem withdrawn, stressed, or just plain lonely - regardless of age or gender. And, please don’t forget our neighbors, too many of whom are dying "deaths of despair."  A port both accepts and launches ships.
I’m happy to exchange thoughts or tell your story.
Ron Goodenow, a member of the Rotary Club of Westborough, may be reached at