Ethics and the Four Way Test

At the March 10, 2014 Interact Meeting at the local high school I was the speaker for the meeting. It was a great chance to interact with the students and talk about a very important topic — ethics. During the remarks I had a discussion with the students on each part of the Four Way Test.

Below is a summary of my presentation.

Everyone needs a Code of Ethics that they can live with each day.

Since it was developed in 1932 by Herbert J. Taylor, who later became RI president, it has never ceased to be relevant. It consists of four brief questions that are not based on culture or religion. Instead, they are a simple checklist for ethical behavior. They transcend generations and national borders.

The Four Way Test of Rotary has endured so long because it teaches of the value of ethical actions within ourselves. The Four Way Test … which guide Rotarians in the things that we think, say, or do.

1. IS IT THE TRUTH? – . TRUTH is objective and sometimes bitter to confront. Nonetheless it is an inescapable TRUTH – that in the end we will all have to face the truth.

2. IS IT FAIR TO ALL CONCERNED? – A close ally to truth is fairness. The TRUTH is only a worthwhile objective if we use it fairly. Fairness itself can be a controversial and contested concept. But in simple parlance, it means treating everyone with equal concern and respect. Respect for one another is a key ingredient of the 4 Way Test.

3. WILL IT BUILD GOODWILL AND BETTER FRIENDSHIPS – this is the key to the Rotary way. It is our friendship that binds us in a common bond of service to humanity. That bond must be preserved at all times. Sometimes even at the expense of TRUTH. The TRUTH is the tool by which we are supposed to build goodwill and better friendships – not destroy it.

4. WILL IT BE BENEFICIAL TO ALL CONCERNED? This requires us to consider the value of truth within the context in which it is applied. We need to ask whether the context requires us to subjugate the truth to some other value like – kindness or compassion? There are situations where the truth is compromised or hidden in order to pursue a greater benefit. To blindly pursue TRUTH at any cost is not always the Rotary way. To do a greater good – compromise may be required.

Wisdom teaches us to value friendship and cherish it as does our 4 Way Test.

–Thomas Smith


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