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Four-Way Test Psychology



The Rotary "Four-Way Test" has been a guiding principle for Rotarians and other community leaders since 1932. It's a simple but effective ethical yardstick for decisions and actions. What's fascinating is the shift in tenses that happens halfway through the test. The first two statements are in the present tense: "Is it the truth?" and "Is it fair to all concerned?" The last two shift to future tense: "Will it build goodwill and better friendships?" and "Will it be beneficial to all concerned?"


At first glance, this might seem like an inconsequential difference in grammar. But dig a little deeper, and you'll see there's some psychology at play here.


Present Tense: Reality Check

The first two questions ground us in the present moment. They ask us to assess the situation at hand. "Is it the truth?" invites us to pause and check our internal compass. It's a call for integrity. When something is true, it's easier to foster global understanding and ethical conduct—values that resonate with Rotarians and many others in the community.

"Is it fair to all concerned?" is a check on fairness and impartiality. Fairness is intrinsically linked to ethics and integrity. This question forces us to consider diverse perspectives and lends itself to the values of fellowship and diversity.


Future Tense: Forward-Thinking

The shift to future tense in the last two questions is about projection. "Will it build goodwill and better friendships?" urges us to consider the lasting impact of our actions. This fits perfectly with the values of vocational expertise, service, and leadership. The question encourages us to use our skills and leadership to create enduring, positive changes in relationships.


"Will it be beneficial to all concerned?" propels us to think about the broader impact of our actions. It speaks to the perseverance needed to find lasting solutions to systemic problems. This focus on the future helps to inspire courage and purpose in the choices we make.


The Complete Package


The "Four-Way Test" offers a holistic view: starting with personal integrity, branching out to fairness in the community, and finally reaching forward to long-term benefits and relationships. It's a psychological journey that starts within and moves outward, grounding us in the present while guiding us toward a future of positive change.


By applying this test, we’re not just making decisions. W’ere engaging in a mental exercise that aligns with values of ethics, diversity, and leadership. It helps adds meaning and purpose to our life and the lives of those in our community.


In the ‘70s there was a popular saying “If it feels good, do it.” That gave permission to do anything no matter what the long-term negative effect. Think if had been “If it will feel good tomorrow, do it today.”

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