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Character Counts – Rotary’s 4-Way Test in Action (Part II)

December 6, 2010

Several weeks ago, I embarked on the first of this two-part series of posts, which intended to show how Rotary International’s 4-Way Test is mapped directly to key character traits…or social skills…necessary for personal and professional success. This is part of the presentation I do across the country, sharing the Rotary-specific version of my speech entitled “Overcoming Failure to Educate.”

In the first post, I took a look at the first two statements of the 4-Way Test.  As a refresher, these are:

  • Is it the TRUTH?
  • Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  • Today, I’d like to take a look under the hood of the second two statements, and see not only what character traits they represent, but also how they connect with the first two to form a cohesive whole.  As I recently had the opportunity to share with a fellow Rotarian, the statements of the 4-Way Test are not meant to be used as independent “factoids” for assessment.  While we might be able to evaluate one situation against the statement “Is it the TRUTH?” and come up with a “yes,” it’s also possible that something may be true, yet fail another statement such as “Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER friendships?” In that case, the situation, as a whole, will fail to pass the assessment of the 4-Way Test. (Want a quick example?  Ok…here’s one: your spouse asks you the immortal question “Does this outfit make me look fat?”  Depending on how you answer, you may be telling the TRUTH, but you can bet your bottom dollar that answer won’t be building any GOODWILL, right? Not only does your answer fail the 4-Way Test, but it’s an epic fail!)

    Having established that, what say we go on to statements three and four?

    These next two statements are:

  • Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER friendships?
  • Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
  • Let’s look at Point #3 – Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER friendships? This involves a complex series of character traits, and, like the 4-Way Test itself, need to work together to work properly. These character traits are empathy, caring, kindness and respect.  You have to have the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes (Empathy) to properly evaluate whether something you say or do will have a positive impact.  “How would I like it if someone said/did that to me?” Also, you have you CARE about the effects of your actions on the other person, which means you have to CARE about the other person in the first place.  Caring also involves respect. Respect and caring causes you to act with kindness which is why, in the previous example I gave you, you may believe, in truth, that the outfit does make your spouse look chunky, but kindness, respect and caring are what keep you from being so tactless and hurtful to say it in just that way.  Empathy — knowing how you’d feel if someone was that blunt with you about those few extra “love handles” — also keeps us from saying things that can have a negative effect on our relationships with others.

    Now, that brings us to Point #4 — Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned? In some ways we come full circle because once again we are talking about fairness as we did in analyzing Point #2. But we are also using character traits of consideration and cooperation.  Consideration means “with continuous and careful thought.”  Again, if you care about others, their opinions, and the impact we have on them with what we say and do, we have to be diligent and “careful” with those thoughts and actions.

    Cooperation is a big one.  If you look at the definitions for the word, it has two meanings: 1) to participate or assist in a joint effort to accomplish an end; 2) to form or enter into an association that furthers the interests of its members. In other words, “Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?”

    And there’s one little, miniscule word that I think is hugely important in this last statement and that’s “all.” Those three simple letters means that this test must be applied to everyone, at all times.  Not just those people we think we can benefit from knowing or working with. Not just the people we like. Not just those who can offer us something, but everyone, all the time.  The 4-Way Test is universal. If you are a true Rotarian, it is your code of conduct, no matter what you are doing or where.

    And that’s the beauty of a Universal Truth. It’s in play all the time. Like I explained to the other Rotarian, you can just pick and choose which Points of the 4-Way Test you want to apply to a given situation.  Because, if you do so, you can past one or two points, but break others, and that is a violation of the 4-Way Test in total.

    I had to apply the 4-Way Test just today to something I was considering doing tomorrow.  I was planning to attend a meeting where, while I was invited and had every right to attend, my presence there would have only served as a huge, visible reminder to the organizer of a horrendous injustice she’d done someone in the past few months. I would have served as the walking personification of her sneakiness and unethical behavior.  While I would have also hoped to be considered as an active resource to this group, the likelihood of that was slim because of the organizer’s way of doing business. So, as it turns out, the only “legitimate” reason for my going would be to make her justifiably uncomfortable.  And, if you apply the 4-Way Test, would have passed on two points, — it was true, it was fair, — but would have failed the last two. It would not have resulted in any goodwill or improved friendships, and it certainly wouldn’t have been beneficial to “all.”  The organizer would not have benefitted from my appearance at all. So, I’m not going.  Instead, I’ll focus on more positive endeavors, ones that are productive and beneficial, and I’ll leave the potential conflict alone.

    I believe that is the spirit of the 4-Way Test. To stop and think, to evaluate what we are about to say and do before we take action and consider the effects of those words and deeds on others.  As Rotarians, we have the ability to positively impact so many people and circumstances. But we also have the ability to do great harm and hurt, if we forget our roots and charter.

    Like our character and our social skills, the 4-Way Test is the guidepost for who we are and how we conduct ourselves, no matter what else we are doing.  Unlike our meetings, there’s no “makeup” for life. Let’s be the very best we can be, each and every day, with “all” with whom we concern ourselves. That, my friends, is how we succeed in “Building Communities and Bridging Continents.”

    Yours in Rotary,

    Corinne Gregory

     (A student-version of the analysis of the 4-Way Test can be found both in the SocialSmarts Exploring the Virtues I curriculum as well as in the book It’s Not Who You Know, It’s How You Treat Them, Copyright 2010, All rights reserved.  For more information on the book visit

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