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Striving to Do Better - Living the Four-Way Test


By Marta Jones Turner

Contributors: Nathaniel Abrams, John Brown, Ed Elam, Cameron Jahnke, Andy Jones, Andre’ Marria, Fran Milberg, Nate Tyler, Scott Rich, Angela Williamson

As we enter our 100th year, the Rotary Club of Thomasville is placing renewed focus on Rotary’s code of honor--the Four-Way Test. To define those efforts and bring the Test to life, we gathered input from members of the executive board and from members of the club.

President John Brown and his board are making the Four-Way Test part of its Code of Conduct. They also hope to weave the Test into the very fabric of our club and our individual members’ lives. The intent is to strengthen our club and to encourage our members to apply the Four-Way Test to their work, family, social, and community lives.

“The result will be a better club, serving our community in more meaningful ways,” said President John. “I firmly believe that as our members commit more fully to living the Four-Way Test, we’ll also become better people—in our businesses, our families, our friendships, our churches, and in every other way we connect to the community.”

What is the Four-Way Test? It’s twenty-four words. Only twenty-four words. But, taken to heart and put into action, they are powerful words that form a foundation for truth, justice, friendliness, and helpfulness. At its core, the Test focuses on doing what is right.

The Four-Way Test of the things we think, say or do:

  • Is it the truth?
  • Is it fair to all concerned?
  • Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
  • Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Created in 1932 by Chicago Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor when he took charge of a company facing bankruptcy, the Four-Way Test became a guide for that company and its employees. Their ultimate business success is credited to the simple philosophy.

In 1943, Rotary adopted Taylor’s Four-Way Test as watchwords for Rotarians worldwide. The Test has been translated into more than a hundred languages and published in thousands of ways. It is one of the world’s most widely quoted statements of business ethics.

Rotary Clubs around the world have worked through almost eight decades to ingrain the Four-Way Test in members’ daily lives. The Thomasville club is no exception. A silk-screened banner of the Test hangs behind the speaker’s podium at every meeting—it’s been a tradition for at least 40 years. Wallet cards and desk placards, discussions at fireside chats, reciting the Test at club meetings, special speakers and an annual four-Way Test Award honoring a club member are among the methods the Thomasville Club has used to encourage an understanding of and adherence to the Test.

Today, as our club renews emphasis on the Four-Way Test, we asked Rotarians to summarize how they view the Test and what it means to them. Here’s what they said:

  • Nathaniel: “Without the preamble ‘of the things we think, say or do’ there is no value in a recitation of the 1,2,3,4 of the Test. An example of someone who lived the Four-Way Test is John Lewis with his 80 years of service to others without scandal, moral missteps, or the acquisition of wealth via his position--only service to others above self.”
  • John: “It lays down not only the way Rotarians should conduct their business, but the way they should conduct their lives.”
  • Cameron: “The essence and the core foundation of the Four-Way Test is truth and fairness. When those core ideals are enacted, the remaining values of the Test occur naturally. At a personal level, following the Test is a self-check on an individual’s character. Living by the Four-Way Test builds an ethical business culture and cultivates personal and meaningful relationships.”
  • Andy: “Truth matters. Truthfulness is next to Godliness. My Mother taught me and my siblings to treat all people the same. We need to help each other no matter what or who they are. That’s the essence of the Test.”
  • Andre’: “Character that is authentic. My husband Walter is my living example of the Test. Walter’s life reflects JOY, or J-Jesus, O- others, and Y- yourself. He always put our family first and every day he works in service to others in the ministry.”
  • Fran: “It’s the core value for Rotary and life. I negotiate in my professional life and I apply all four questions to my negotiating, especially, ‘Is it fair to all concerned and is it the truth.’”
  • Scott: “It is an honor code for adults. In high school my daughter wrote an essay about how important it was to always tell the truth. She said I was the one who instilled that belief in her. She got an “A”!”
  • Nate: “’North Star’ comes to mind. It’s how I separate the noise in the echo chamber of life. When confronted with confusion, I pull out my North Star, the Four-Way Test. The Test always corrects and focuses my thinking. During a difficult time in my career, when assaults were made to undermine the hard work of loyal and dedicated fellow employees, the Four-Way Test guided me as I spoke truth to power.”
  • Angela: “To me it means trust. Honesty allows me to trust someone no matter the situation. I knew Nathaniel had a document shredding business, but thought it was for businesses only. When my sister told me to call Abrams to shred my mother's items, I called Nathanial and he explained the processs. I simply told Nathanial I knew he would do the right thing and handle things appropriately because I know he lives the Four-Way Test.”

Herbert Taylor said in 1943 when summarizing the impact of the honor code he created and applied to his business: “We found that you cannot constantly apply the Four-Way Test to all your relations with others in business without getting into the habit of doing it in your home, social and community life. You thus become a better father, a better friend and a better citizen.”

For more about the Four-Way Test, visit the Rotary International website or open these links: 

Posted by Susan Backofen
September 3, 2020

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