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Rotary Thought Spot Cutting Through Assumptions

May 20th, 2009

“If we all worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true is really true, there would be little hope of advance.”

 – Orville Wright, aviation pioneer

 “You must stick to your convictions, but be ready to abandon your assumptions.”

  -Denis Waitley, author and motivational speaker

 Remember your first haircut?  

 I remember mine – it was a blond Dutch boy that I wore from toddlerhood until I was old enough to insist on my need for more hair. What I remember even more vividly is the best haircut I ever got.

 I studied in Normandy, France as an undergraduate and my time abroad transformed not only my outlook but also my appearance. Norman tap water contained visible particles of calcium – tiny orbs that bobbed around in a water glass like mercury in a thermometer. It probably fortified my teeth and bones but was not so kind to my hair.

 Like most students I put a priority on seeing as much of Europe as possible on a tiny budget. After finishing my studies in France I explored Spain and Italy in the early summer and spent my last month abroad in London with my friend Brigid. As I prepared to go home, I took a good look at my hair.

 It scraggled down to my elbows with the grace of an industrial mop.  

 That summer Vidal Sassoon was the hottest name in London style. I had heard through the student grapevine about a Vidal Sassoon school, where for next to nothing you could have your hair cut by an advanced student. You reserved a spot in the daily cutting session, then your hair would be selected by a student stylist from a lineup of heads. I got a slot in the early afternoon session and took the tube to the school’s headquarters in the Green Park section of London.

 About a dozen others ventured in that day – frugal London housewives, young working women looking for style at a bargain price, tourists on a lark, cash-strapped students.

We sat in a row of uncomfortable molded plastic chairs while the stylists-in-training looked us over. My stomach knotted as they chose their clients with the precision of kids in gym class choosing teams for softball. In hair as in school sports, I wasn’t the first draft pick.

 One advanced student wearing the name tag David looked distressed as he realized he’d surveyed us too long to have his first or even second pick. He was fashionably slender with short, edgy black hair. He wore leather overalls with a black turtleneck.

 Unhappily accepting his fate, he turned to me with disapproval. “I suppose you want to save….this?” He held up the ends of my hair distastefully, like the tail of an unfortunate rodent, between his thumb and index finger.  

 I couldn’t really blame him. My hair resembled straw that had been plugged into an electrical outlet and felt like sandpaper.

 Before I could think about it I blurted out, “No, I don’t. I don’t want to save it. You can do whatever you think is best.” What had I done? What could he possibly know about what was best for me?

David paused. Then he dropped the attitude and picked up my hair in both hands. He studied my face and nodded knowingly about the calcified water. Like a gardener he weeded and pruned for an hour or so, replacing the sandpapery straw with the best haircut I’ve ever had. 

 Before he had finished his instructor was calling the other students to look at our results. “This,” she pronounced, “is the work of an artist.  Do you see how he’s brought out the best in this hair?  Smashing.” 

It was only a haircut. But David and I had managed to cut through our assumptions to helping one another realize our potential. 

In our clubs, it’s true that we sometimes assume what a member wants, or is interested in, or would be good at, without asking them. In our communities, especially in this current economic climate, we may assume that our new member prospects are limited and that losing members is inevitable. Or that our small contribution to the Rotary Foundation doesn’t mean much.

In reality, it’s our assumptions about people and situations that limit our potential. When we let go of assumptions that limit us, we unleash great possibilities.  And our hearts and actions follow.

Assumptions, like hair, can benefit from a little off the top and sides from time to time. When was the last time you gave yours a trim? 


DG Elizabeth

 Ways to Cut Through Assumptions

Explore New Ideas by Reversing Assumptions

Reversing Assumptions is a simple and effective way to generate new approaches to recurring issues or mindsets.  Consider using it with your club Board or a committee when you need to set new goals, or when what’s worked in the past doesn’t seem to work any longer. 

Participants list all the assumptions associated with an issue or condition, then as a group develop assumptions that are opposite or different from the listed assumptions.  For a guide to Reversing Assumptions, visit the Membership section of the district website at www.rotary6040.org,.

Apply Reversing Assumptions in Your Club 

Membership:  Are there ways your club can rethink its expectations about how to grow?  What possibilities may have been overlooked?  To brainstorm more ideas about membership growth, contact District 6040 Membership Co-chairs Randy High at rhight1953@concast.net or Leslie High at leslie.high@tmcmed.org.  

Polio Eradication:  Rotarians don’t question that we will eradicate polio – but what assumptions is your club making about its contributions to that effort?  Rotarians have the opportunity to rid humankind of a deadly disease – what’s your club’s potential to play a part in this?  Contact Polio Eradication Chair Beth Lindquist at elizabeth.lindquist@mcckc.edu  for information or contribution forms.

 Our Rotary Foundation:  If you removed certain assumptions your club has about their contributions, what could happen?  Would you be a “Ray Star” club and average $100 per Rotarian?   How many Paul Harris Fellows and Paul Harris Society members would you have? May-June is prime time for recognizing and encouraging Rotary year-end contributions!        Contributing is easy – talk to your club Foundation chair or contact District Foundation Chair Shirley Wurth at davidwurth@sbcglobal.net. Or read about Ways to Give and download the Foundation Contribution form on the District website, www.rotary6040.org

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