Character Counts – Rotary’s 4-Way Test in Action

As part of my mission to educate the country on the importance of social skills, positive character and values, I travel nationally and internationally speaking to business, service, and other groups.  Many of these presentations involve speaking to Rotary clubs.  It's a "happy marriage" of form and function, because I also happen to be a Rotarian (Redmond Rotary, WA).

As I present in the Rotary version of my talk, "Overcoming Failure to Educate," there is a direct mapping between what Rotarians believe in and positive social skills and character (for a quick video excerpt of the Rotary presentation, click on the image below or here).

One of the hallmark's of Rotary is "The 4-Way Test."  Originally it was established as a way for Rotarians to evaluate whether any present or considered business interaction was ethical and honest.  But, over time, the 4-Way Test has become the litmus test for how Rotarians should conduct themselves at all times.

Since this is National Character Counts week, I thought it might be very interesting to explore how the 4-Way Test is a study in character...this isn't a stretch for's part of my normal Rotary presentation (and, in fact, our Exploring the Virtues curriculum, under the lesson of Honesty).

The 4-Way Test consists of the following statements, which we Rotarians are to consider "in all 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?

Now how does this map to positive social skills and character? Well, let's see. In this post, I'll go into the first two, and I'll discuss the second two questions in the next post on the subject.

In Point #1 - Is it the TRUTH, the character underpinnings we are looking at are, no surprise, honesty, and also integrity. These are very critical character traits to have to be truly successful in business and, actually, in life.  Now certainly, there are plenty of people who lie, cheat and steal their way through the business landscape, but I don't think "success" at the cost of your integrity is true success at all. I'd rather be poor and be able to look myself in the mirror and like what I see than be the richest person in the world but know that I got there by being ruthless and dishonest.

Point #2 -- Is it FAIR to all concerned?  Again, probably not a stretch to see that we're talking about the character foundation of Fairness. But to be true to the point, you also have to consider Equality in the mix.  While Fairness and Equality are frequently confused one for another, in practice they are not the same.  In order to be Fair, you don't necessarily have to be Equal; the opposite is also true. For one quick example, look at it this way: if you fed a two-year old an equal amount of food as you provided for a 220-lb professional football player and expected them both to clear their plates...well, you may be "equal" but are you being FAIR?

Equality and Fairness are also very important motivators in our life dealings, as are Honesty and Integrity...without these, you lack credibility and you lack trust because people don't have a solid sense that you'll do what you say you'll do, that you will keep things even, and that they can depend on your character.

But, these are only a few crucial character points that arise in the 4-Way Test and next time, I'll expand on this discussion and go into the next two points, their character structures and show how the 4-Way Test isn't just for business, but is for life.

Now, I'm off to the airport to Washington DC where I have the great privilege of speaking to several groups in the next few days including two great Rotary Clubs in the DC Metro area.

P.S. For more on my study of the 4-Way Test and its value to students, schools and business, check out this February, 2010 feature article in Rotarian Magazine.


Did you find this article helpful?  You can find more on character studies, effective social skills and even The 4-Way Test in "It's Not Who You Know, It's How You Treat Them."  Available, now, too on Kindle and Nook!

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  1. Once again, you say the sensible thing, hit the nail on the head. If only we can get our politicians to understand these concepts. I’m looking forward to the next post. ~M

  2. andisha says:

    it is my thinking that the only principle that underpins the 4-way test is : is it the Truth?  everything else falls in place when one speaks and acts based on truth.  Absolute truth without shades of grey in it.  good, bad or ugly…, always be brutally truthful.,

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