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Timeless Information

Following are messages from Rotary International President, John Kenny, from RI Director-elect Lars-Olof Fredricksson and by our own Peter Wisnosky about Vocational Service, The 4-Way Test and the importance of being committed to business ethics and helping others.


In light of today's financial and business disasters and the toll on human lives around the world that irresponsibility and immorality have exacted, these messages are well worth reading. In addition to President Kenny's emphasis on Service Above Self, the 4-Way Test is very relevant, and Lars-Olof Fredricksson assesses directly the relevance of the test in today's world. Peter Wisnosky brings the test to a personal, introspective level, asking us to think about what the test means in our own lives. 



The test is well worth committing to memory: Is it the TRUTH?, Is it FAIR to all concerned? Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS? Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?


For a slideshow about application of the test to the Internet emails and other communication, click here.



RI President, John Kenny: President's Message in "The Rotarian", October 2009



My fellow Rotarians:

There are many service organizations in the world today, but none so old or so successful as Rotary. There are many reasons for that, and Vocational Service is one of them. This year, I wish you to place a special emphasis on Vocational Service, which is sometimes the forgotten Avenue of Service in Rotary.


High ethical standards in business and personal life are still as important today as they were in 1905. Indeed, many of the problems our world is facing today have been caused by the failure to observe such standards in business affairs.


Vocational Service, in Rotary, means that we are committed to honest business and unassailable ethics, and that we are equally committed to using our vocational skills and advantages to help others. The idea is simple enough - but it is unique to Rotary.


Many service organizations are open to anyone who wishes to join. That has never been the case in Rotary. Rotarians only seek out as members those who are qualified - those who have the character, the ability, and the resolve to make a real contribution to their club.


I have long believed that the bedrock of Rotary is our commitment to ethical behavior. It has been putting what's right above what's convenient - and Service Above Self - that has made Rotary different from the rest. That is why we must always remember that whatever we do, we are each the public face of Rotary. We are each the standard-bearers of our organization. What one member does, for good or for ill, reflects on all of us.


So much of what we've achieved as an organization has come about because of the trust the world has in Rotary and in Rotarians. That trust has been a major part of our success in polio eradication - the fact that we are known in every community, and known to be people of goodwill and good hearts.


If we wish to see our organization grow and prosper, we must keep Vocational Service front and center in our minds and actions. We must seek out skilled and determined men and women of character. We must do what is right, even when it is inconvenient. And we must always, always, put Service Above Self.


John Kenny
President, Rotary International


A new look at global ethics and The Four-Way Test

By RI Director-elect Lars-Olof Fredricksson 


Moral codes and ethics give us tools but also raise questions to be answered: How should we live? What is morally good and bad, right and wrong? Shall we aim at happiness or knowledge? Virtue or the creation of beautiful objects? If we choose happiness, will it be our own or the happiness of all?

And what of the more specific questions that face us? Is it right to be dishonest for a good cause? Can we justify living in opulence while elsewhere in the world people are starving? Is going to war warranted in cases where innocent people will likely be killed?


Ethics deals with such questions at all levels. The subject's core consists of the fundamental issues of practical decision making, and its major concerns include the nature of ultimate value and the standards by which human actions can be judged right or wrong.


For Rotary, The Four-Way Test is the cornerstone of all action. It has been for years, and it will be in the future. Of the things we think, say or do

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

The test is one of the hallmarks of Rotary. Since it was developed in 1932 by Herbert J. Taylor, who later became RI president, it has never ceased to be relevant. Its four brief questions are not based on culture or religion. Instead, they are a simple checklist for ethical behavior. They transcend generations and national borders.


As Rotarians, we should have The Four-Way Test in mind in every decision we make, all day long. Our utmost responsibility is to speak the truth, to be fair, to build goodwill and better friendships, and to do our very best in all situations.


Life is very turbulent today, and people all over the world are exhausted in their duties. Where are the dreams of a better world? Where are we? Who are we? What is our duty to ourselves, neighbors, and fellow citizens? Where are charity and our joint responsibility to humankind?

Now more than ever, we need a vision and knowledge of what is happening around us, a new view of cultural and religious phenomena, without dividing humankind into limited and subjective categories. That's the tenet for a better world and a job for us Rotarians: not engaging in politics, but serving without any boundaries.


This happens through our programs, and it happens through acting as a guide for international coexistence, providing a forum for dialogue and discussion worldwide, giving perspective to views and models, finding new solutions using Rotarians' great knowledge and expertise, and having interfaith, multicultural, and ethical standards as guiding principles in all dealings.


No divine right can be vested in anyone to pronounce the final word or the ultimate truth. In matters of faith and religion, prescriptive morality should be avoided, as it often is the root cause of hostility and divisiveness. Global ethics is based on an interfaith mind and ecumenical way of living.  

The one universal, unsurpassed principle expressed by nearly every major religion and values system is similar to the golden rule: Do to others as you would have them do to you.


Today, it is especially confusing to determine what is really right and wrong. But the fundamentals of Rotary are bound to universal ethics and humanity without any boundaries between race, religion, or ethnic background.


Rotary offers a possibility for solving ethical problems. Well-trained, well-engaged in social life, and with strong consciences, Rotarians must try to address these issues through Rotary's vocational and community service programs. People all over the world need more safety, tolerance, understanding, and love. They want to live in peace.


Tolerance, fairness, respect, compassion, and hope are particularly needed today. But what are tolerance and fairness? Are they only a question of sharing resources, rights, and obligations, or more a question of an ongoing dialogue? For an effective discourse, we have to identify the real problems, discuss them, and try to find compromises.


We should know what the human culture is made of, and what it means to different people and to the identity of other nationalities. The knowledge of other cultures, along with the skill to face the dissimilarities in our lives and lifestyles, seems to be a key point and the biggest issue.

Rotary, whose club members represent many cultures and religious beliefs and are committed to high ethical standards, can support mutual understanding and serve as a tool for peace. Rotarians and Rotary clubs all over the world - in small country towns and huge capitals, in the East and West, South and North - may provide enduring forums for peace discussions and together work for peace.


Lars-Olof Fredriksson, of the Rotary Club of Äänekoski, Finland, is a retired major in the Finnish air force and has a master's degree in political science.


Presentation by Peter Wisnosky, member of the Rotary Club of Morrisville, on January 21, 2010



Let's start with a quiz-a test of your Rotary I.Q.  Who was Herbert J. Taylor?  How many of you know?  What was his lasting contribution to Rotary International and, thereby, to this club?


You are correct if you said that Herb was a Rotarian, a founding father of a Rotary Club in Oklahoma where he served in every office and, later, as president while a member of  club number 1 in Chicago.


His contribution?  Herb wrote about the true spirit of Rotary and the great things that Rotary did and he penned the simple, straight-forward Four Way Test.  In 1942 he gave the copyright to Rotary International.


To this day his Four Way Test continues to be the cornerstone for Rotary and a guide for each Rotarian.  Concerning our thoughts and our actions, it teaches us to respond to the questions

  • 1. Is it the truth?
  • 2. Is it fair to all concerned?
  • 3. Will it build goodwill and better relationships?
  • 4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

That has been the hallmark of Rotary since Herb presented it in 1932 and its relevancy continues to impact upon Rotarians in more and more significant ways as time goes by.


In a sense, the code is a tool, a test of character, a procedural model, a way to live-in short, a moral and ethical plan.  It is a guide that stresses what is right, good, and desirable while leading an individual toward a more virtuous life.


Rotary's code of ethics, the Four Way Test, is far more than four simple questions that add to the ritual of a club's opening agenda.  It is a challenge, since it strikes at the heart of our behavior.  It deals with very basic issues and asks us to make tough decisions.  "Is it OK to be dishonest for a good cause?"  "Is it justifiable to live in great affluence while much of the world is suffering from lack of food, water, tyranny, and war?"  "Are we our brothers' keepers?"  Therein lie the dilemmas.


The first step "Is it the truth?" immediately underscores that dilemma.  What is the truth?  While pondering a philosophic understanding the world can't wait.  In our exhausted world burdened with all kinds of strifes and struggles, it is imperative for us to "see it like it is" and to act.


Just look around, watch the TV news, read the newspapers, listen to knowledgeable people.  It's a bombardment:  the needs are overwhelming; they are all around us and around the world.  Do we believe it?  Really, are these reports true?  Are people dying due to lack of food, inadequate medical facilities, tainted water, unemployment, and physical impairments?  Yes, they are.


Rotary does a good job of keeping us posted on all the good things they are doing.  But to what degree are we as a club involved? And, especially, how are we as individual members involved?  Is your response an honest one-is it the truth?


Then we are asked "Is it fair to all concerned?"  Every once in a while we must remind ourselves that there is no room for discrimination in Rotary.  Since Rotary is a composite of all types of religions, political persuasions, ethnicity, status, education, and race, discrimination and favoritism have no place in our decisions.  Total objectivity is tough since we live in a society that is far from perfect; however, although total objectivity isn't always consistent with "Do unto others as you would have them do to you", we must work at it.  We make statements that reflect the teachings of various religions, such as:

            Buddhism: "Hurt not others in ways that you  

                 would find hurtful."

            Christianity:  "Therefore, all things whatsoever 

                 you would that men should do unto you, do ye 

                 even so to them."

            Confucianism:  Do not do to others what you do 

                 not want them to do unto you."
            Islam: "None of you truly believes until he wishes 

                 for his brother what he wishes for himself."

            Judaism: "What is hateful to you, do not do to    

                 your fellow man."

            Native Americans: " Do not judge another until  

                 you have walked a mile in his moccasins."

            Philosophers like Kant, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle  

                 and Seneca echo these same beliefs.


It is obvious that compassion, tolerance, respect, are needed.  Ask yourself :"Where do I stand?"; "Am I fair to all concerned?"  You've all heard the saying that "We are all equal, but some are more equal than others."  Unfortunately, history reveals that position.


In whatever we do "Will it bring goodwill and better relations?"  Rotary International has won its stripes many times over on foreign soils.  Conflicts and wars were even put on hold while our volunteers rendered their services.  There is no better U.S. representative than Rotary. Volunteers like our own Lee Nolting attest to the warm, considerate and appreciative responses from the people where he served in the hair lip/cleft palate program.  Similar reports abound elsewhere around the globe.


So, yes, we are bringing goodwill and better relations-but a lot more needs to be done internationally and locally.  I raise the question, "Why in spite of our effort to help our community, are groups or individuals so hostile toward Rotary?  Why do local residents refuse to join our club?"  Obviously this part of our code needs creative thinking and acting to improve local images.  Goodwill and understanding are challenges for us.


Finally, "Will it be beneficial to all concerned?"   We are pleased when we learn that we are on the verge of wiping the scourge of polio from the face of the earth; that we have given a brighter future to children whose cleft palates/hair lips no longer stand in their way; that we have made pure, fresh water available to people in Africa.  But we often forget the effect these projects have upon the givers.  There must be an inward satisfaction and peace as a result of being part of helping those in need.  Whether it be helping to give a polio inoculation, digging a well in Africa, distributing wheel chairs in South America or serving dinner at the Homeless Shelter or Soup Kitchen in Trenton, these gifts of service are beneficial to both the recipient and the giver.  Our reward is that of a job well done.


I hope that I've given you something to think about.  So how do you feel?  All of us in this club are doing something to put the code into action but can we do more?