In Focus — Working Ethics
A Challenge for the New Century
In a time of ever-changing societal values,
Rotarians take the lead in establishing right from
by Anthony G. Craine
A review of the major newspaper headlines of the past
few years might lead one to believe that big business
has abandoned any attempt to maintain a meaningful code
of ethics. If business news makes the front page, it
tends to focus on some new allegation of accounting
fraud, insider trading, or misuse of funds.
For generations, the names of many large firms —
AT&T, General Motors, and IBM, for example — have
conveyed an image of stability and integrity. In recent
years, however, the corporate names imbued with the most
meaning have been the ones associated with illegal
activity or failure — Enron, HealthSouth, Tyco, World
Com, and others.
Some would argue that the high-profile nature of the
scandals has skewed public opinion disproportionately,
that a few bad apples, no matter how large or how
rotten, do not necessarily spoil the whole bunch. But
few would dispute that, regardless of the extent of the
decline in standards, the common perception is that
modern corporate culture is ethically bankrupt.
In a 2002 poll conducted by the U.S. television
network CBS, 69 percent of respondents said that they
believed illegal activity among chief executive officers
of large companies is widespread. The same poll found
that 79 percent thought the questionable accounting
practices that characterized many of the most recent
corporate scandals are also widespread.
The image of the modern-day business leader will
continue to deteriorate until the trust of the general
public is regained. This is where Rotarians can make a
difference. As leaders in their communities and their
professions, Rotarians are among the best candidates to
act as agents of change.
Past RI President Clifford Dochterman is a student of
Rotary who has devoted considerable thought to the
organization's history, including its long-standing
commitment to vocational service and the promotion of
high ethical standards within the professions.
"Certainly, Rotarians can be leaders in some
ways to create a new atmosphere of honesty, decency, and
personal responsibility in the business and professional
society," Dochterman says. "But it will not be
as easy, nor will it be as simple a process in today's
world as it may have been in the early days of
The world has changed, Dochterman says, since Rotary
began to grow in the first half of the 20th century,
when Western society tended to subscribe to absolutes.
Some things were right and some things were wrong,
period. There were no "in-betweens." Rotarians
were influential proponents of that philosophy. But the
subsequent erosion of those well-defined standards into
something much more vague and conditional creates a
challenge for today's ethically minded Rotarians.
"Rotarians do not have as their support the
societal or universally accepted and understood beliefs
in the basic tenets of truth, honesty, decency,
morality, fairness, and goodness," Dochterman says.
"The ethical philosophy seems to be, 'It all
Despite that shift in society's mores, RI
President-elect Glenn Estess sees a way Rotarians can
promote high ethical standards every day: by acting with
integrity and leading by example.
"When we do something that is out of line with
our basic principles, or principles we're expected to
have, not only does it affect us, but it affects all
those associated with us," Estess says.
"That's the reason that we in Rotary have to be
ever vigilant to be sure that we are, as one friend of
mine says, 'squeaky clean.'"
Grassroots Rotarians have two bedrock-strong sources
of inspiration and guidance: The Four-Way Test and the
Declaration of Rotarians in Businesses and Professions.
The Four-Way Test grew out of a professional
challenge faced by Herbert J. Taylor, a Rotarian who was
hired in 1932 to run the faltering Club Aluminum Company
of Chicago. Taylor reviewed the company's operations and
found some failings in its practices, including
advertising that promised more than the company could
deliver. Hoping to reset the business on the path to
solvency and integrity, Taylor, a deeply religious man
who would later serve as RI president, sat at his desk,
closed his eyes, and prayed. He then jotted down a
24-word code of ethics for his employees to follow in
their personal and professional lives. That code became
The Four-Way Test, a simple evaluation "of the
things we think, say, or do" (see below).
of Rotarians in Businesses and Professions provides
guidelines for the high ethical standards called for in
the Object of Rotary. It is an eight-point plan that
outlines how Rotarians incorporate service into their
professional lives. Teresa Hall, governor of District
7120 (New York, USA), sees value in these tools that
"The general ethical climate in the business
world is pretty much at an all-time low," Hall
says. "If the people involved in the wrongdoing of
the recent corporate scandals thought of The Four-Way
Test or the Declaration of Rotarians in Businesses and
Professions beforehand, then we might find ourselves in
Hall knows firsthand the power of doing the right
thing in business and setting good examples. Growing up,
she watched and learned as her parents ran the family
business, a television shop.
"My parents took care of all customers,
regardless of their ability to pay," she says.
"This was their way of giving back. My dad always
told me the meaning of success was not just in dollars,
but in what you could do for others, and he incorporated
his vision for success with his own personal Service
When she was introduced to Rotary and saw how similar
its principles were to her father's and her own, she
knew she had found the right organization, one that
follows a simple yet powerful principle expressed by
nearly every major religion and values system.
"Do unto others as you would do unto yourself
— the old golden rule," Estess says. "It's
not the big things. It's the little things that we do on
a regular basis that tell the story of what we're all
In the pages that follow, you'll read about how
nearly 100 years after Rotary was born, its members
continue to influence the way people conduct themselves
in their professional lives by adhering to the little
things. Some of these things may seem big — Rotarian
Jim Alderson uncovered fraud that amounted to more than
a billion dollars, and John Dean speculates on how
Rotary ideals might have prevented one of the most
infamous government scandals in U.S. history. But in one
way or another, the solutions are all based on those 24
words that Herb Taylor first wrote back in 1932.
Anthony G. Craine is
senior editor of The Rotarian.
Watergate, war, and The
U.S. lawyer John W. Dean III, who served as White
House counsel from 1970 to 1973 under President Richard
M. Nixon, addressed the District 5670 (Kansas, USA)
Conference on 3 May 2003. The grandson of a Rotarian,
Dean examined what might have taken place at the
Watergate Hotel if Rotarians had been in charge of the
White House. (Nixon, an honorary Rotarian, resigned as
U.S. president in 1974 under threat of impeachment for
covering up a break-in at the Democratic National
Committee headquarters.) Dean's speech, which provides a
new perspective on one of the most fateful decisions in
U.S. history, appears in The Rotarian's January
issue, edited for length. Here, we provide the full text
of the speech.
Since 1943 Rotary Clubs everywhere have looked to,
and shared with others, an ethical testing tool that is
wonderfully simple and remarkably telling. As most of
you know, this ingenious little four-pronged test,
developed in 1932 by Chicago businessman Herbert J.
Taylor, who years later became the president of Rotary
International, consists four fundamental questions:
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?
To test his tool Mr. Taylor first employed it in his
own life. He tested it with his colleagues and business
associates. Pleased with the result he soon took it to
Rotary, and the rest is — as they say — history.
Rotarians throughout the world adopted the Four Way Test
as their own, and have used it for six decades in their
lives, in their businesses and in their communities.
This test is not a code, not a creed, not a religion.
Rather it is an assessment device, a basis for inquiry,
a structured analysis, or more simply stated — a
checklist to help one find the right thing to say or the
right thing to do.
If The Four-Way Test has been found wanting, or
somehow defective, after over a half-century of its use,
it is a well-kept secret. To the contrary, Rotary's
Four-Way Test has only proven itself more reliable with
the passing of time. The reason for its success is
obvious — truth, fairness, friendliness, and community
assistance are timeless necessities in human dealings.
They are no less than Golden Rule standards.
It was with this reality in mind, that I decided to
put The Four-Way Test to a critical examination. It
started with my asking what kind of guidance might I
have gotten as counsel to the president during
Watergate, if I had applied it?
But I must confess before I started examining Mr.
Taylor's test in the context of Watergate, I found
myself thinking about more current and more important
problem, the potential of a war with Iraq — which was
then looming. Before testing it with Watergate, I
decided to put The Four-Way Test to the test of war.
While I am not aware if there are any active
Rotarians in the current Bush White House, I am aware
that there are many evangelical Christians on the
president's staff. The Four Way Test is a purely secular
undertaking. I am told (by a very reliable source) that
a number Christians at the Bush White House were asking
how Jesus might handle a character like Saddam Hussein?
I don't know what answer or answers were found. But I
don't believe that question necessarily trumps The
Four-Way Test. I say that because I went looking for
answers to all these questions.
Unlike a couple of my former White House colleagues,
and onetime Watergate co-conspirators, Jeb Magruder —
who returned to Princeton and became a Presbyterian
minister, and Chuck Colson — who became a born-again
Christian and founded a Prison Ministry — I am just
one of the flock. I have no theological credentials
whatsoever. So to get a fix on the question of what
Jesus might do about war, I turned to those with
theological expertise. And to those who have thought
long and hard about this question.
I didn't have to read very long before it became
apparent that for Christians there is no simple answer
to questions about war. One can find Christian
theologians who are convinced that the teachings of
Jesus preclude war. While others find His teachings
justify war. Not to mention a lot of cross fire in the
mix about who is right and who is wrong, and what
exactly the Bible means in this area.
Christian thoughts on war run from the pacifist at
one end of the spectrum to the crusader at the other
end, and in between you have what is considered the
moderate position that condones a "Just War."
This appears to be the most prevalent position in this
As you might expect, lengthy treatises have been
written on what is and what is not a Just War. Just War
teachings suggest how all combatants should act in
battle. They don't try to justify war, rather these
thinkers are trying to establish guiding principles for
engaging in war.
While it was interesting to read about Just War,
again, there is much debate in these writings. So let me
cut to the bottom line. I want to tell you that the
purely secular Four Way Test cuts through a lot of hotly
debated, often deeply nuance, theological discussion and
arrives in the end at a very similar place.
Let me briefly tell you what I found in applying The
Four-Way Test to war.
Is it the Truth?
As I perceive it in the context of war, the first
question — Is it the Truth — asks if there is a true
reason to go to war, as opposed to not going to war.
Unfortunately, history teaches us that the reasons
for war are not always what they appear. Sadly,
presidents often find it necessary to be less than
truthful about war.
In 1916 Woodrow Wilson campaigned for reelection as
president on the promise that he would keep America out
of World War I.
In 1940 FDR campaigned by telling mothers and fathers
in Boston: "I have said this before, but I shall
say it again — Your boys are not going to be sent into
any foreign wars."
In 1964 Lyndon Johnson pledged repeatedly during the
campaign against Barry Goldwater that American boys
would not be sent to the jungles of Vietnam to die.
It strikes me that the first question of The Four-Way
Test is as potent a question as one might ask about any
war. It is a question that all interested citizens
should want to ask, and if we cannot get the truth,
there is a fundamental flaw in our system. But let me
turn to the second prong of The Four-Way Test, because I
believe that the way the questions are asked is as
important — if not more important — than the
Is it Fair to all concerned?
The second question in The Four-Way Test is, of course
— Is It Fair To All Concerned. Fairness is like Truth,
and it is subjective. It is certainly not a true test of
Fairness to claim — as some might — that "all
is fair in love and war." To ask if a war is fair,
is to test whether the means is appropriate to the end.
Ethicists will tell you that Fairness is a subject
that is more debated and open to varying interpretation
than any other ethical value. What is fair to me may not
be fair to you. Actually it is easier to recognize what
is unfair, rather than what is fair.
Let me pause just to note that in reading the history
of Mr. Taylor's Four Way Test, it is evident that he did
not seek to pose deep ethical issue for resolution, he
was not creating a matrix for philosophers and ethicists
to explore, rather he was looking for simple answers to
rather simple questions. It was this reality, of not
making the simple unnecessarily complex, that I kept
reminding myself as I explored these issues.
For example, I found I had to constantly remind
myself of this fact as I thought about war.
Can any war ever be fair to ALL concerned? Was it
fair to the Southern plantation owners when Sherman
crossed Georgia with a torch? Was it fair to all
Americans when Woodrow Wilson prosecuted and jailed
citizens who were critical of the First World War
effort? How about the incarceration of Japanese
Americans during World War II — was that fair? And
what about ALL the soldiers and civilians who died in
wars during the last century, a century that stands as
the bloodiest and deadliest in the history of mankind?
I doubt any one would claim any of these war-related
actions, viewed in hindsight, could be considered fair.
But I think the examples I just cited are examples of
how not to apply The Four-Way Test. I believe that to
answer this second question, as with all the questions
Mr. Taylor intended to asked, it must be done by setting
aside any preconceived notions. Also look carefully at
the words Mr. Taylor selected. With this second
question, one has to start with the word
"fair." What are we talking about when we talk
of being fair? Of course this is a subjective question,
but it strikes me it can be examined in an objective
Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines the word
fair as, "marked by impartiality and honesty; free
from self-interest, prejudice or favoritism; conforming
to the established rules; consonant with merit or
In short, for a war to be fair to all concerned it
must be pursued impartially and that pursuit must be
honest. Following the definition of fair, further, the
war must also be free from self-interest. The war must
be executed free of prejudice and favoritism. And the
war must conform with established rules of war, have
merit and have importance. In short, a war that meets
the definition of fair — is (to be rhetorical) by
definition a fair war.
I must tell you that applying the fairness standard
to war, and the definition of what is fair, you find
yourself considering the same types of the issues that
are considered by theologians in their debate about Just
So it is clear that the second question of The
Four-Way Test is vitally important. And for all
practical purposes it forces one to think in a secular
way about the concepts theologians consider in
determining if a war is a "Just War."
Will it build Goodwill and Better Friendships?
Let me turn to the third question of The Four-Way Test
— Will it build Goodwill and Better Friendships?
The answer to this question, I submit, will be
influenced first by whether we are engaged in a
defensive war or an offensive war. Needless to say, war
is not a typical strategy found in Dale Carnegie's
"How To Win Friends And Influence People." But
the answer to this question will also be influenced by
the answers to the first two questions of The Four-Way
The deeper I got into The Four-Way Test, I realized
it comes with a very precise set of instructions about
how to use it. The four questions are to be asked in a
given order, not randomly. It is not until you have
answered whether it is Truth, and whether it is Fair,
that you address the question of whether it will result
in Goodwill and better Friendship.
If the reason for the war is not true, if the conduct
of the war is not fair, it is rather obvious that the
war is not going to create goodwill and better
friendships. Indeed, I submit to you that with many
matters that you may never get to the last two
questions, if you cannot find acceptable answers to the
first two questions.
This is not to say that third and fourth questions
are not important, because in many ways they draw out
your earlier answers. But let me proceed to the last
question, so I can move to the larger picture that was
emerging for me — in my testing of Mr. Taylor's four
Will it be Beneficial to all concerned?
The last question — Will it be Beneficial to all
concerned? — is like the second — it applies to ALL
concerned. The second question, of course, is whether is
Fair to all concerned. When one gets to war, or any
matter relating to the actions of a nation, or a
government of that nation, the ALL CONCERNED involves
great numbers of people. How does one know who all is
concerned? How does one know whether the war helps or
hurts all who might be concerned? Is this an impossible
question in the context of war, or for that matter any
government policy? Will there not always be people who
believe that they are, and others that they are not,
benefiting from war, or some other government policy?
Aren't there always partisans?
The obvious answer to my questions is that you can't
know all who are concerned. I don't believe that Mr.
Taylor wanted you to know how it affected persons with
whom you have no direct or indirect impact. In
administering this test in many situations you will not
be able to know if what you say or do is fair to all
concerned, or beneficial to all concerned. Not only is
it difficult to know the reach of any statement or
action, or in this case, the ramifications of war, for
there will always be differences in perception and
But to raise these problems is only to point out what
I believe to be the true beauty of The Four-Way Test.
After looking for answers to these questions, what Mr.
Taylor's code really does — what it forces — finally
dawned on me. The key to this test is not necessarily
the answers to the questions. Rather it is what asking
the questions forces you to do — to think. To
appreciate the impact of your words and actions on
others. From this thinking process, you will discover
the right thing to say or the right thing do. Or I
should say, what is right for you to say and do.
Purpose Of The Four-Way Test
I was about ten years old when I attended my first
Rotary meeting with my grandfather — who was an active
Rotarian his entire life (and it was a long one, for he
lived almost 100 years). But it was not until your
District Governor, Mack Teasley, mentioned The Four-Way
Test that I became truly aware of it. I've not only
tested it with war, but I have now tested it more times
than I can recall. I've made it part of my thinking.
Indeed, I only wish I had known about it earlier.
It was at about this point in drafting of these notes
for this talk that my wife, Maureen, or "Mo"
as she is known to me, happened to read the material.
Aren't you going to answer these questions on war in
your talk, she asked? Aren't you going to say whether
you found the president's explanation for the war with
Iraq is the Truth? Was the war Fair to all concerned?
Has it built Goodwill, and was it Beneficial to all
My answer to her, is my answer to you. There is a
reason I've not given you my answers. I don't believe
The Four-Way Test is designed for me to tell you my
answers. Nor for you to tell me yours. The more I worked
with the test, the more I felt I understood what Mr.
Taylor sought to accomplish.
The Four-Way Test is not an outline for a sermon. It
is not a design for a lecture. Nor is it a search for
the definitive answer to each question.
To the contrary, as I perceive The Four-Way Test it
is a personal reckoning device, a private syllabus for
each of us to employ on his or her own and to find the
answers for themselves.
As I told my wife, the most important part of The
Four-Way Test strikes me as the mere use of it, the
honest search for answers to its questions. I guarantee
to anyone who has never truly worked through The
Four-Way Test on any vexing issue that they will find
that it opens up hidden corners of your thinking that
will surprise you. I guarantee you that it will sharpen
your perception of any issue you address — after you
go through the exercise.
I entitled my remarks: Testing Rotary's Four-Way Test
With War And Watergate. I mentioned at the outset I have
recently applied The Four-Way Test to Watergate.
I am going to tell you without fear of contradiction
that had those of us in the Nixon White House who were
involved in Watergate stopped to apply The Four-Way Test
— even if only occasionally — there would have been
no Watergate. In short, The Four-Way Test works. It
works for war — the toughest test I could think of
testing it against. It will work for any issue — if
only we are willing to use it.
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