Marriages and mortgages. Gangs and gods, family and flag. And don’t forget sports teams. We promise our love, fealty, credit rating and “good name” as though they were lottery scratchers, blind stabs at self-satisfaction and communalism.
Inevitably, our purposes, pursuits and passions take a detour. Commitments are tossed, consequences be damned.
My blue puck sits at this confetti crossroads. It’s a shredder paperweight. It’s also a life coach.
The puck isn’t slapshot material. It is a plastic memento of my Fresno Rotary service. Emblazoned within is the international community service group’s Four-Way Test, a set of expectations for how members should conduct themselves.
Millions of Rotarians worldwide have publicly promised to adhere to the following. That includes, presumably, one-time Rotarian Donald Trump:
“Of the things we think, say or do:
“Is it the truth?
“Is it fair to all concerned?
“Will it build good will and better friendships?
“Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”
Oddly, society now views honesty and honorable behavior as radical, risk-laden.
Maybe that’s why we assign them to heroic figures: Superman – truth, justice and the American way; and Robin Hood, brave, courageous and bold (truth, maybe, in his quiver).
The puck is an encourager, imposing neither penance nor a Pollyanna life view. Tipping off your true intentions – in politics, combat and business – can be deadly, illegal and, at the very least, imprudent. I recall the World War II mantra: loose lips sink ships.
But dousing moral benchmarks with a WD-40 of dishonesty and deception to limber facts and fairness more to our liking, that’s a swindler’s strategy.
The moral mud wrestling makes for memorable cinematic lines:
“You can’t handle the truth.” -- A Few Good Men
“The rules are there ain’t no rules.” – Grease
“Pie crust promises. Easily made, easily broken.” -- Mary Poppins
It’s easy enough to relax good judgment. Who doesn’t click “accept” to iPhone updates without reading the appended lawyer lingo? The same for “initial here” DocuSign electronic pledges on 30-year home loan documents.
Some take a deeper plunge to all-out weasel in word and deed, becoming smilingly vile and productively destructive. There, we take our halves from the middle, skunk-spraying all else. We distort the truth until we’ve created plausible fantasy. Janus-faced, we become top hurlers on Rotten Tomatoes, downgrading benevolence, self-sacrifice and good Samaritan conduct as time-wasting flops.
As a newspaper reporter, I once asked Fresno church leaders if lying were ever acceptable. A United Methodist pastor affirmed it was, such as when Nazis demanded captive populations reveal whether they were concealing Jews. “A lie to the liars is not a lie,” he said. Not everyone in his flock agreed.
Silence in the face of dark stars suggests fear, indifference or complicity.
Options include activating the poet Robert Frost’s option: “Good fences make good neighbors.” Or we may adopt the dark autopsy given by J.K. Rowling’s character, Voldemort: “There is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it.”
The Four-Way Test helps lift such selective blindness. The remedies always involve getting off your duff and staring into the mirror until one of you cracks. Next, assist others without serving your own self-interests.
Examples in the Rotary include worldwide programs to eliminate polio, reduce malaria, create human milk banks, provide job training for the needy, wheelchairs -- “the gift of mobility” -- for the disabled and solar-powered water purifiers to avert disease. Many nameless cogs empower these betterments.
There is no immaculate good. But the Rotary puck test is a useful Fitbit to strengthen moral character.
John G. Taylor, a former California journalist and retired hospital executive, is owner of JT Communications Company. He lives in St. George, Utah. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org