Governance, respect and The Four Way Test

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, October 13, 2004

Wouldn't you know it! Last week I graciously warned you not to get burnt by a certain political candidate whose signs I'd seen around town, and one reader accused me of having lost my mind. Another called the column "the groaner of the year" – though one reader was prepared to "take a chance."

Well, Firewood's chances improved dramatically in the mind of more than one reader, thanks to my foray into campaign commentary. Red Deer coffee companion Fred Nordby wrote:

"Great fun. I was going to vote for Taber Corn, but I see most of his signs are down. I will see if Firewood's name is on the ballot."

Thanks, folks, for chuckling with me over the firewood signs scattered among all the campaign signs currently dotting the landscape. As Fred said, it was "great fun."

This week I want to switch focus to the serious side of politics and governance.

With municipal, provincial, First Nations, and American elections dominating our thinking these days, I asked various Cochrane coffee house patrons what quality they most desired in a candidate. The responses can be summarized in one word:


This doesn't really surprise me. Respect is frequently mentioned in connection with those aspiring to public office.

Respect can't be demanded; it has to be earned. And the way one earns it is by showing respect to others – by practicing a listening heart.

Respect is the necessary ingredient in community-building and in maintaining civility in governance.

In the language and culture of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation at Morley, "respect," ahopabi, is traditionally associated with "peace," oyade, which is the same word used for "town" or "community." After all, you cannot have true community unless people live in a respectful relationship of peace with one another.

Similarly, respect in Stoney Nakoda society is associated with traditional eldership, for elders are senior members of the community who have been recognized as wise in their First Nation's ways and have a respectful presence that has earned the respect of the rest of the community.

As Chief Ernest Wesley once said: "Our elders' teachings can be captured in one word: respect. And respect calls us to a certain kind of community experience together."

Respect is a quality admired universally. Families and associations thrive when their members are respectful of each other. Modern theories of conflict resolution depend on the exercise of respect. Businesses everywhere prosper when respect is shown toward customers and staff alike.

And speaking of respect in the business community, one service organization has developed a formula particularly well-suited to getting respect right.

Every Rotary club's weekly meeting includes the recitation of The Four Way Test. Created in 1932 by Herbert J. Taylor, the test has become for many an effective measuring stick for respectful professional and business conduct. It goes like this:

Of the things we think, say or do:

  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?

Now, I'm not a Rotarian myself, but I have long admired the group. I believe The Four Way Test has value not only in business, but in politics and governance, as well.

Indeed, a lieutenant governor of New Mexico once declared: "The 4-Way Test talks about truth, goodwill, and fairness . . . this is surely a creed to live by. It has served Rotary well and is a good starting point for understanding ethical practices in government."

And just this fall, the City of Mission Viejo, Calif., proclaimed itself a "Four Way Test City."

So, during this time of political campaigning, and subsequently after the successful candidates have been sworn in, I would humbly like to lend my support to the use of The Four Way Test as a valuable discipline for getting respect right in public affairs. It will promote truth, fairness, and goodwill to the benefit of all concerned.

© 2004 Warren Harbeck

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