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‘The Four-Way Test’

As I watched the Pagosa Springs High School commencement ceremony last Saturday, I wondered what advice I could give to those 83 seniors receiving their diplomas.

My mind immediately went to a small plastic plaque that sits on my desk.

When former SUN publisher David Mitchell encouraged me to join Rotary, I was confused as to why he thought that going to lunch with a bunch of people and singing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” would be beneficial.

As I cleaned off David’s desk after he died, I found a small plastic plaque that spoke to me. The plaque had Rotary’s “Four-Way Test” inscribed on it:

“THE FOUR-WAY TEST of the things we think, say or do. 1. Is it the TRUTH? 2. Is it FAIR to all concerned? 3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS? 4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?”

The back of the plaque says that The Four-Way Test, “Can be applied profitably in relations with others in the home, community, business, national and international life; particularly to proposed plans, policies, statements and advertising in business and the professions; to proposed legislation in government; to relations between teachers and students in the schools.”

According to Rotary’s website, “The Four-Way Test was created in 1932 by Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor when he was asked to take charge of a company that was facing bankruptcy. His 24-word code of ethics for employees to follow in their business and professional lives became the guide for sales, production, advertising, and all relations with dealers and customers, and the survival of the company is credited to this simple philosophy. Adopted by Rotary in 1943, The Four-Way Test has been translated into more than a hundred languages and published in thousands of ways.”

Not long after David died, I was inducted into the Pagosa Springs Rotary Club. At every weekly meeting, a Four-Way Test banner is displayed.

When Jann Pitcher was inducted as the Rotary president, she drilled the Four-Way Test into every club member’s brain. We had to recite it backwards and forwards, upside down and sideways.

Wait, I just broke the first rule of the test by exaggerating — but you get the picture. If we didn’t have the test memorized at the beginning of the Rotary year, by the time the year was over, we knew it by heart.

I have often wished I had learned about Rotary’s “Four-Way Test” when I was still in high school. I didn’t learn of it until I was 37 years old.  Today, Rotarians start sharing the test with third-grade students through their annual Dictionary Project.

The test is even displayed on billboards in court premises in Ghana.

I have to admit that I sometimes find it difficult to apply the “Four-Way Test” to the decisions I find myself faced with on a daily basis as editor of our small-town weekly newspaper. In particular, there are letters to the editor that I know won’t pass the test. There are editorials, opinions and stories that we have a duty to print even when they don’t build goodwill and better friendships, and if they aren’t beneficial to all concerned.

Not every decision I make can pass the test, but it remains a useful tool.

The next time you are faced with making a business or a personal decision, check to see if it passes the test.

Terri Lynn Oldham House

This story was posted on June 5, 2014.