The Four-Way Test dissected
Herbert Taylor with The Four-Way Test. Rotary Images
In 1932, Herbert J. Taylor wrote down four questions on a small white piece of paper to serve as an "ethical yardstick" for his employees.
His simple creation has come to be known as The Four-Way Test. Revered by Rotarians, it has been translated into more than 100 languages and recited weekly at club meetings around the globe.
When Merv Hecht, a member of the Rotary Club of Santa Monica, California, USA, challenged the notions behind the test as unrealistic and impractical in today's world, his letter in the December 2009 issue of The Rotarian prompted a flood of responses, many in defense of the test.
"Is it the TRUTH? The truth is variable," Hecht writes in his letter, reflecting on the first tenet of the test. "It used to be the 'truth' that the world was flat. And if you didn't accept that truth, you were burned at the stake. Then for many years it was taught that the world was round. Now they say it's elliptical because of the pull of gravity. Which is true?" He goes on to argue that what is fair for some is seldom fair for all, and that the final two points of the test are "not the way the world works." ( Read the full letter. )
Hecht says he is surprised by the response his letter has received. "It was a spur-of-the-moment letter, but in thinking about it now, I think it's a reaction to the black-and-white attitude that is permeating our society," he says. "Absolutism is dividing our fellow Americans as well as our international friends. The Four-Way Test is another of these absolutes that fails to train people to see the grays in social relationships. Perhaps Rotary, one of my very favorite organizations, could be improved with a new Four-Way Test that includes an openness to other points of view."
Below are a few of the many responses that have poured into The Rotarian 's mailbox.
- Dale Bailey, of San Diego, California, USA, agrees with Hecht: "You're right -- The Four-Way Test is obsolete. We now live in a world where absolutes only erode our freedoms. Truth is now only that which benefits the bearer."
- John Collier, president-elect of the Rotary Club of West U (Houston), Texas, USA, writes: "If I am committed to the truth, I do not deceive people. I am transparent. I am committed to full disclosure and the truth as I know it, because deception is a practice that tries to persuade someone to believe a lie."
- Marsha Doyle, treasurer of the Rotary Club of Lamar, Missouri, USA, responds: "The Four-Way Test isn't supposed to be easy. I believe it is supposed to make one think hard and search to the heart of every matter to ensure that the one asking is diligently seeking integrity. We try and fail now and then, but we try. We succeed far more often. Rotary should continue to promote the test as a standard to which all persons of integrity and goodwill can aspire."
- George Paden, a member of the Rotary Club of Sand Springs, Oklahoma, USA, and district Rotary Peace Fellowships chair, says: "I respectfully submit that 'this is not the way the world works' is precisely the reason every member of Rotary should totally embrace the principles set forth in our Four-Way Test. Rotarians do not work the way the world works. Rotarians are not people who are motivated by what's-in-it-for-me or what-have-you-done-for-me-lately kinds of thinking."
- Connie Cockcroft, president of the Rotary Club of Athens, Pennsylvania, USA, writes: "The Four-Way Test is the purest, most humble way to gauge the ethics of our professions."
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