In defense of The Four-Way Test

Rotarian Magazine - April 2010

Editor's note: More than 20 people wrote responses to a letter about The Four-Way Test that ran in the December issue. Here are a few of them. Read more responses online.

Thank you, Merv Hecht from Santa Monica, Calif., USA, for your reasons why The Four-Way Test is wrong. What better reasons for it to be promoted by Rotarians and others who can make a difference in the world.

Jim Patton
Avondale, Pa., USA

As a brand new member of Rotary, I joined the organization partly because of its commitment to high ideals. Imagine my disappointment when I read the critique of our Four-Way Test. Yes, we do live in an imperfect, sometimes unfair, world. Does that give us an excuse to cop out on ethics? Should we have nothing better to aspire to, no guiding principles by which to live? Not me. I will continue to recite The Four-Way Test at every meeting. In addition, I will try to apply the principles in my life and teach them to others, especially to young people. It may not be much, but every pebble in the water creates a ripple somewhere.
Paula Becker
Florence, Ore., USA

A writer in December feels that Rotary should not promote The Four-Way Test and explains his view of why it is wrong. His arguments are posed as if the test consisted of commands – as if it read, for example, "It must build goodwill and better friendships." But the brilliance of The Four-Way Test is in its questions about the things we think, say, and do. It does not give orders or answers.
Answers tend to end an inquiry, while questions open the mind and illuminate the issues. To ask, "Is it the truth?" is to look at how we apply our principles of honesty and integrity to the matter at hand. The concept "beneficial to all concerned" is, to our test critic, "not the way the world works." Could be, but is that the point? The question invites us to assess whether a thought, action, or word might be to the needless detriment of others – or whether, instead, we might look at how to create potential benefit to those concerned.
In 22 years of Rotary committees and team meetings, I can't count how often a difficult choice suddenly becomes clear when someone muses, "Let's see … Does it build goodwill and better friendships?" Here we're called on to value relationships and to pay attention not only to the choices we make but how we get there and communicate with those involved.
When we ask, "Is it fair to all concerned?" we're likely to exercise our instincts toward justice – to consider the long-term effects on those around us. Is it fair for me to pass along a bit of information about someone, for example, or would it be more fair to stop and ask, "Am I sure I know the whole truth? Will it create goodwill? Does anyone benefit?"
The questions of The Four-Way Test engage the individual's will to make reasoned and caring choices. In using the test, we take our stand for greater integrity, more excellent service, and richer friendships.
Maureen McDaniel Merrill
Windsor, Calif., USA