Reconciling truth and fairness

By Martin Postic Jr., Rotary Club of Oklahoma City Midtown, Oklahoma, USA

Martin Postic Jr.
Martin Postic Jr.

As Rotary members, we’re encouraged to apply The Four-Way Test to everything we think, say, or do. And yet many Rotarians fixate on just the first part of the test – “Is it the TRUTH?” – and stop there. It’s easy to see why. Truth is an absolute. But fairness, as embodied in the second part – ­“Is it FAIR to all concerned?” – is not.

In society today, the goal seems to be to win at all costs. Individuals sometimes seek to skew the truth to achieve an outcome “fair” to them but not necessarily fair to all concerned. Some people feel that if they win, it IS fair, but if they lose, it’s NOT. They’ll play fast and loose with the truth to achieve the result they deem “fair.” Which begs the question, “Which is more important – truth or fairness?”

I would argue they are both important and connected. As is the third part of the Test: “Will it build goodwill and better friendships?” It’s a mistake to consider any one part of the Test apart from the others. They’re all inter-related. And they’re all an internal barometer of our own intentions toward others, not a tool to judge others.

Fairness is a skill

A well-known TV commentator once said, “Fairness is not an attitude. It’s a professional skill that must be developed and exercised.” I believe this is what the Test has in mind. Fairness must be viewed from the point of view of our intentions in making an offer to another person and the environment created for the other party to accept that offer.

If we’re arguing over $100, it might be “fair” that we each agree to accept $50. Or one of us could justify needing a larger portion of that money than the other, due to our situation in life. That resolution could still be considered “fair.” We could even agree that one or the other of us should take all the money. A third party looking at that situation may not find any of these agreements to be “fair.” But why does the third party need to comment when they are not a party to, affected by, or concerned by the agreement being made?

What is fair in one case may not be fair in another. What is fair to one party may not be considered fair to another. Individuals need to look deep into their hearts when considering what is fair, because there are no absolutes of fairness. Still, there are fair solutions to most situations that can “build goodwill and better friendships.”

Past Rotary International President Cliff Dochterman’s annual theme in 1992-93 was “Real Happiness is Helping Others.” There’s something heartwarming about helping someone! Goodwill is defined as “a kindly feeling of approval and support; benevolent interest or concern.”

In most (but not all) friendships, a person is looking for something in return — acceptance, affirmation, business, love, or some other tangible benefit. If that benefit is not returned, the friendship often ends. In much the same way, if a business’s “friendship” (i.e., developing goodwill) does not translate into some tangible benefit to that business, the business either ceases their involvement in the community or goes out of business.

Building goodwill requires sacrifice

The third point of the Test similarly seeks a quid pro quo. If I demand that, in our friend-relationship, I am always right, you always pay, or you always bear the brunt of my insults or comments, how long will our friendship last? If I act in such a ruthless, cutthroat business manner that it hurts you or the community, will you want to do business with me or be my friend? Clearly, building goodwill and better friendships involves giving something up.

We have all been to meetings where someone tells a joke or makes a statement that insults someone. It may have been intended to be “in fun,” but was it really? We are each free to think, say or do anything we choose. However, I can freely choose to discontinue a friendship based on what I see that friend saying and doing.

Much like the concept of fairness, building goodwill and better friendships is not an absolute. I try (but don’t always succeed) to consider whether my thoughts, words, and deeds will build a better relationship with the people with whom I interact. Similarly, I consider whether the thoughts, words, and deeds of others cause me to want to continue a friendship with them.

I’m friends with many individuals whom I know don’t share my philosophies, beliefs, and opinions. I value their friendship enough not to impose those philosophies, beliefs, and opinions upon them. If my thoughts or words don’t further those friendships, then I choose to keep them to myself. However, if my friend doesn’t do likewise, our “friendship” can reach a breaking point where there is no longer a benefit to either of us. That is the crux of the question you must ask yourself: whether your thoughts, words, and deeds build goodwill and better friendships.

12 thoughts on “Reconciling truth and fairness

  1. I agree that Marty’s and Dennis Wong’s comments are very timely. I think that it is important to build a relationship (Dennis) and then can discuss where the truth lies. We need to be open to discussion. While I agree with Leslie Lee that we need to do action, I am not sure to what she/he? is referring to. Dialogue is important. We can solve conflicts before entering into a fight/war. To say that someone should not be a Rotarian is not being open to discussion. While legally, going to the COL to add “fun” as a fifth test is the “truth”, it seems that statement is not reflecting the importance of friendship and Rotary, that we need to have fun with each other as well as working for various causes.

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  2. Well said my friend. With your permission, I may plagiarize parts!! My club certainly needs to hear what you have written.

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  3. Very well writtten Marty. The Four-Way Test is the gold standard for Rotarians. Too bad it is not the gold standard for society in general. As you have so aptly pointed out application of the Test does not allow one to pick and choose which ones they apply. Each is independent of the other three but co-dependent on all for working together. May we all commit ourselves to living by the Four-Way Test every minute of every day in 2023.

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  4. Your post is timely in addressing our polarized world by way of our Rotary values and principles.

    Thank You for adding important dimensions and layers to our embrace of The Four-Way Test.

    I encourage fellow Rotarians to share their thoughts on applying The Four-Way Test in our daily lives, and in our areas of service and focus, especially in regards to Peacebuilding and Conflict Prevention.

    This is to share a “Creative Look” at The Four-Way Test.
    https://rotaryserviceblog.org/2019/02/27/a-creative-look-at-the-four-way-test/

    Be Rotarian and lead by example.

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  5. I am sorry to say this comment is against all the principles of Rotary for over 100 years. This person should not be a Rotarian and the attitude is a reason why our membership is falling. Instead of these words on line, Rotary is about action not sitting in front of a computer.

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  6. We need to créate an ethical Team to support this special issue in Rotary live to perpetuate rotary Int. This special Team, might be asked to review a case by PDG inside a District. Must be appart of the political parties inside District !

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  7. Both are important because there are three sides to a story,his side,her side and the truth . It’s in knowing the truth that you discover if it’s fair or not. Thank you.

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