COLUMN: The Four Way Test provides a one-way ticket to civility

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By David Meredith

The Rotary International’s Four Way Test is a real winner. As a member of the South Oldham Rotary, every week before our meeting we recite The Four Way Test of the Things we Think, say, and do.
First, Is it the Truth?
Second, Is it Fair to all concerned?
Third, Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
Fourth, Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
I love the test not just because I am a Rotarian, but because it is a constant reminder of the foundations upon which a culture of civility are constructed.
The test incorporates the objective standard of what is right and includes holding to that principle in every relationship and transaction with other people.
When we reject such standards of rightness and behavior, a community or nation easily slides into self-centered behavior and pursuits. The results are a dog-eat-dog world full of ethical crises. We no longer know what is right and wrong.
 In years past, the existence of objective truth was taken for granted. It was a given that truth did exist and was knowable.
But in today’s postmodern culture, the idea of objective truth has taken a hit and is no longer assumed. Relativism has begun to win the day.
For purposes of definition, objective truth is that which is true for all people, at all times, in all places.
On the other hand, relativism holds that truth is found within each individual and is not subject to any standard outside of each person. Relativism says each person’s truth is their own, and hence merely dependent on one’s personal preference.
Depending on which of these viewpoints a community or nation holds will determine the outcome of how that culture lives life.
Ideas do have consequences.
When I read the news, I am amazed at the lack of an ethical and moral compass in practically every sphere of life.
Sports, politics, business, corporate, even the religious sphere, abound with ethical crises. People choosing actions which our society know are wrong.
According to recent editions of this newspaper, even our beloved Oldham County is not immune.
I have become convinced the reason lies in a rejection of the principles of The Four Way Test.
When we reject the idea that there is some objective standard of truth, then everyone simply makes up their own truth as they go. Everything becomes relative to each individual’s preference.
Many people think of ethics like they do eating ice cream at Dairy Queen.
You may prefer a vanilla cone while my favorite is a Turtle Pecan Cluster Blizzard, of course, exchanging the caramel for peanut butter.
Neither is more right or wrong, it’s just what each prefers.
In a series of columns, I will address some cultural issues in which this issue of truth plays a vital role.
If we get this one right, the rest fall into line. But reject the idea of truth, and chaos, confusion, pain, anger, and oppression of people will result.
People will be cheated, hurt, unjustly treated, lose their retirement savings to crooks, and a whole host of other cultural pathologies.
Without an ethical standard, we have no basis upon which to figure out if Adolf Hitler was any better than Mother Teresa. Both were merely doing what they preferred.
Without some objective truth, you will rightly ask the question of me: Why should I read what you write? And further, Why should I listen to anyone trying to persuade or teach me anything?
If everything is preference, and there is no objective reality and truth, why should I spend my time and life listening to you express your mere preference?
Good question. If there is no truth, then the writer who writes is merely giving an opinion which is no better than another person giving the opposite opinion.
Neither is there any reason to listen to any scientist. I am always amazed at a scientist or philosopher who says he is a relativist but then tells me I should listen to a new truth he has discovered about the world, or medicine, or nature.
If there is no truth, he is merely giving an opinion which is no better than what an untrained mind would say.
Same goes with educators who teach a relativistic worldview. If they are not certain they have the truth, why should we spend time trying to learn from them? What makes their opinion any better than someone else’s?
In the next few weeks, I will discuss why a belief in objective reality is not only reasonable, but vital to a community of civility, and a culture worth passing on to our children and grandchildren.
When Herbert Taylor came up with The Four Way Test in 1932 and decided all business transactions would be subjected to those principles, his Club Aluminum Co. was swimming in red ink.
Furthermore, the country was in the midst of The Great Depression. However, five years later the business was not only surviving, but thriving. These principles of truth are timeless and necessary not only then, but now as well.
The Rotary’s Four Way Test principles are more than good suggestions.
They are key to sustaining a vibrant and healthy business, family, nation, and any other community of human relationships. That is not just an opinion, it’s the truth.

David Meredith lives in Crestwood and is a member of the South Oldham Rotary Club. The views expressed in this column are those of the writer.