Research/Opinion: Elected officials, please use this test

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At the upper edge of Granddad’s ever-tidy desk lay a small wooden hammer. Directly above, perfectly centered at eye-level, was a plaque earned long ago from his service as Rotary Club president. On it was the code of ethics Rotarians recite at every meeting, the Four-Way Test:

1. Is it the truth?

2. Is it fair to all concerned?

3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?

4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Imagine if each of us applied the Four-Way test to every thought, utterance, and action. What a world this could be. Many believe in this simple wisdom, but it’s all too human to get wrapped up in the emotion or determinations of our pursuits. Issues become complicated; details and feelings form thick clouds which limit sight.

We need conscious reminders. That’s where ethics come in — they help us step back to see more clearly, to apply overarching principles before we finally act.

It wasn’t sentiment which kept Granddad’s Rotary mementos in their place of honor, where he would see them each day as he worked, wrote letters, paid bills. Decades after he left Rotary, until the day he died, he said the Four-Way Test guided his decisions and adjusted his attitudes.

I once asked legislator-Rotarians what they thought about reciting the Four-Way Test to open each day’s session. The same could be done with any deliberative body, especially those whose decisions affect multitudes — Congress, city councils, and county boards; decision makers in impactful industries such as medicine, media, and law.

Before making this decision, is what we contemplate truthful? Is it fair — not only to those advocating it, but to all affected by it? Will it improve relationships, or create division? Is it beneficial to all affected, or will it also create harm? If the answer to any of Rotary’s four questions is no, there is probably a better solution.

So what do you say, Idaho Legislature? City councils? Commissions? Members of Congress? Would you consider adopting the Four-Way Test at each meeting, Rotary style?


Sholeh Patrick, J.D. is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network who writes at her granddad’s desk, under the guiding ghosts of his Rotarian shrine. Contact her at

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