The Four-Way Test isn’t a tool to judge others

Martin Postic Jr.

Martin Postic Jr.

By Martin “Marty” Postic Jr., past governor of District 5750 and a member of the Rotary Club of OKC Sunrise, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA

In our contentious society, I see friends who are members of Rotary use The Four-Way Test to support opposing political and social arguments and to criticize the thoughts, statements, and actions of others. I see members with completely opposing viewpoints use the same Four-Way Test to both support their argument and demean others. Rotarians and others are using all forms of social media to share their opinions about perceived violations of The Four-Way Test, causing others to pile on additional comments and insults, all with little thought to how this affects our public image.

Which leads me to this basic premise:

The Four-Way Test is a mirror, not a window 

Rotary members should not use The Four-Way Test to look at others but rather to look at themselves in considering the ramifications of a thought, statement, or action. It should not be a window through which we look to judge others. It is a mirror at which we look to judge ourselves.

The argument I’ve heard Rotarians make is that if they determine some thought, statement, or action violates any part of the test, it is their duty to declare that thought, statement, or action wrong. I have heard The Four-Way Test used to support any number of topics, some which readers would find hard to support. Yet through the Internet, one can cobble together any sort of argument to back any thought or concept with a plethora of “facts.”

I do not believe that is what The Four-Way Test is about. I believe the test is more about how we treat each other than how we measure ideas.

Of course, it is a challenging standard. It’s difficult to keep from thinking something. But what is more important is how you act on that thought. If you think to yourself, “I don’t like this person,” it becomes a matter of what you do with that thought. You can try to dispel it as well as any urge to take some negative action to satisfy your dislike of the person. You can also decide whether you say something to that person or tell others what you think.

This is where social media distorts things, because society now seems to embrace negative, vitriolic, or fake comments – as long as the comments agree with our own views. Posting such comments even in the name of The Four-Way Test is certainly not FAIR to all concerned and definitely does not build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS.

This brings me to the realization that using The Four-Way Test to argue political and social issues is in itself contrary to the test. We must never use the test to support a position while opposing or berating someone else’s position. We should not use The Four-Way Test to support or oppose contentious “hot button” issues, to comment on political discord, or to respond to another’s comment.

We need to teach The Four-Way Test to all of our friends. We don’t need to preach it. Rotary takes pride that it is a non-political, non-religious organization. That has allowed us to make inroads in parts of the world where governments and religious organizations can’t. Let’s not sully Rotary’s reputation by using these 24 words of ethical and moral thought to tear each other down.

7 thoughts on “The Four-Way Test isn’t a tool to judge others

    • Pssst, the emperor has no clothes… Rotarians need to be speaking out loud about issues that affect the Movement because the system—RI—has failed. Rotary in most of the western world is losing Members faster than we can attract them, and thus on a downward spiral. We’ve known about this, at least publicly, since 2011. We’re no closer to a solution today. Secretary Hewko recently asked “in this rapidly changing world, are we nimble enough to adapt and innovate?” Obviously, the answer is NO!

      We need the “navel-gazing” if we are going to change this. And it needs to be from the ranks of all Rotarians, not just the PDG-degreed inner sanctum of yes-men (and the occasional yes-women). The service Rotary does is a result of the Movement and if the Movement declines, so will the service. Club Service includes finding the cause of the inability to retain Members in North America, Britain, Australia, etc. (the deep pockets of Rotary) and fixing it. The more we talk about it publicly, the better shot we have of achieving a solution that works.


  1. While I agree overall with what you say, I believe there are times within the Club structure that you can use the spirit of the Four Way Test to let a member know that their action was not in the spirit of the test and caused harm to another member, especially when they feel it didn’t break the spirit of the Four Way Test. The Four Way Test is something for us to live by in our daily actions. If we all did that the world would be a better place.


  2. Ken, thank you for your comments. I understand your reticence over the corporate context of “public image.” That is not what my concern addresses. My “public image” concern focuses solely on the concept of Rotary as a service to mankind. When the comments and reactions of Rotarians, supposedly supported by the Four Way Test, to political or social issues (whether locally, worldwide or internally within our organization) cause public argument and dissension which then degrades into insults, vitriol, etc., others may then have reason to question the non-partisan qualities of the organization. That then causes us to suffer damage to our ability to do good in the world.


  3. Very good post! Indeed, the 4-Way is an introspective tool used to clarify one’s own viewpoint. “THE TRUTH” is not an easy thing; centuries of philosophers attempting to clarify this without universal success only underlines that this won’t work when the truth isn’t mutually agreed upon. A Customer service situation can probably define the common truth. In politics, fuggedaboutit!

    I will make one other observation about the post. I am very uncomfortable about this sentiment: “…how this affects our public image” This is a generally unspoken consideration in the above Club Level Rotary World that is used to silence “unapproved” comments and opinions. It is one reason why Rotary is struggling in NA and other places. Leaders with different ideas have no public voice because of this rule. I don’t believe “Is It The Truth?” has a parenthetical “Does It Further Our Public Image?” attached to it.


    • I think that these are the battles where we send the four questions as proof that we are right that are harmful to our public image and the desire to integrate our clubs


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.