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.

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

  1. The 4 Way Test is not to be used as a tool to judge others? Now you tell me. I am a lawyer. My first encounter with the 4 Way Test occurred with a client for whom I had done work and presented him with a bill. Relying on the 4 Way Test, he refused to pay for the services he had received.

    I am not even sure the test makes sense. Is truth to be suppressed if it is decided not to be “fair” will not build goodwill and better friendships, or not be beneficial to all concerned? In those three cases, do you tell lies?

    Years later, I joined a Rotary Club, and I discovered it was a disgusting organization made of rich retired arrogant snobs with its hands constantly in members’ pockets for a contribution.

    If you want to join an organization that assists children, consider Kiwanis.


  2. My personal experience has been that Rotary itself and some of its members, including District Governors, have failed to follow the four-way test when it wasn’t expedient to do so. Truth…justice…well, not in my case. As a Rotarian I have been somewhat disillusioned since.


    • In the name of PDG Sergio Levy of Curitiba in Brazil, I answered to you by email, Joyce.
      The Ethics Fellowship of Rotarians and the future Rotarian Action Group on the 4WayTest & Ethics is necessary. Thanks for your support, Marco Kappenberger in covidfree Samoa/Polynesia.


  3. Pingback: Politics and the Four Way Test | Corinne Gregory

  4. As a relatively new member and President Elect, I appreciate the voices above. I’m at PETs today and exploring all of our web based connectivities and resources. After landing here in voices and reading, your comments have stimulated great thought for this inbound President. Thank you for sharing!
    Oxford NC


  5. In 2008 — after making a couple of hundred presentations on The Four-Way Test, I wrote a book: The 4-Way Test: Twenty-Four Words That Will Change Your Life. It is available from the Russell-Hampton Company, the publisher ( or the author. I have been a member of 16 Rotary Clubs, am a former Associate Secretary for Programs and Development for both Rotary international and The Rotary Foundation; my perfect attendance is now beyond 55 years. Most importantly, probably, is the fact that i became very-well-acquainted with Herb Taylor when we both lived in the Chicago area (1970’s) To me the 4WT can be summarized in three words: truth, Justice and love; in two words: fellowship and service; or in one work; authenticity. Remember, also, he profits most who serves best …
    — C. Neal Davis, Ph.D.,ACFRE,PDG (5100), member of The Rotary Club of Hillsboro, Oregon (


  6. Rotary International should take note of the real meaning behind the Four Way Test. It must be rigorously applied when dealing with issues within its membership. Ethical behavior demands it instead of cowering behind corporate excuses. If the Four Way Test is to be “a mirror at which we look to judge ourselves” and “how we treat each other” then how individual members are treated would also be of paramount importance in maintaining the integrity of the organization. The words sound good, but sometimes substance is lacking. And yes, this is written from personal experience.


  7. What has received no mention in this article is the all important preface to the Four Way Test, that is often ignored, “Of the things WE think, say and do”……
    The ‘WE’ encompasses ‘ME’ or ‘I’ and in general Rotarians as a group. But it does not say ‘THEY’ or ‘ YOU’ .
    Think about that. You cannot use the Four Way Test with ‘THEY’ or ‘YOU’ (implied).


  8. Herbert Taylor, creator of The Four Way Test, when President of Rotary International defined the 6 Objectives motivating Rotarians, Clubs and Districts, one of them was “Apply the Four Way Test” and the example of application that he insisted on was the initiative by Rotarians from the Ueno Rotary Club, Japan who distributed umbrellas to citizens to shelter from the rain at railway stations. After verifying that some umbrellas were not returned, they started printing The Four Way Test on the inside of the umbrellas … solving the problem of the return. UNICEF annually promotes essay contests on TFWT for university students. The Ethics Fellowship of Rotarians, recognized by RI on June 27, 2016, encourages its more than 3000 members in 108 countries to undertake Projects inspired by The Four Way Test because it understands that Ethics is the essence of The Four Way Test, http://www.ethicsfellowship. org Sergio Levy, Chair & CEO. By the way, Complience is nothing more than The Four Way Test in another configuration


  9. It’s not in the knowing, it’s in the striving. Can we really know the full truth, what is really fair, will build goodwill, or is beneficial? I believe we cannot, fully, do so. However, if we are striving for these things, others will help us define and clarify them. They will appreciate the effort and join in it. Therein lies the power of using these as a test for our thoughts, words, and actions. Let us be seen striving and let us be open to those who help us understand what moves us towards these objectives!


  10. Thank you Martin,
    Your comments on the need for fairness, building goodwill and better relationships with ALL is very Rotary, and sometimes forgotten in the hustle of this world. When our members are hurt by comments, they leave. Yet everyone has a worthwhile contribution to make, that is why they join Rotary.
    Please keep thinking and acting in friendship and goodwill,
    Marilyn from Australia


    • 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.


  11. 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.


  12. 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.


  13. 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


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