Guest Opinion: Rotary’s ethics test makes headway in schools

As business people we have always needed to have a solid working knowledge of ethics. But more and more the concept of ethics that was once seen as a corporate issue must be seen as a social issue.

Kinder, Lydenberg, Domini and Co., a social-research firm in Boston, reports that “corporations today simply cannot ignore the social issues in their communities; cannot ignore their employees, with the shortage of skilled staff; cannot neglect the changing needs of their customers; and of course cannot neglect stockholders.”

It’s no surprise that there is a corresponding awareness of the critical need for the building of ethical values in the young people of the United States.

In the article “Growing Conscience,” in Better Homes and Gardens, May 1999, Susan Gaines stated that “Fostering children’s ethical development may be far more important than improving their test scores.” She added, “At home, school and work, there is no question that, without the ability to get along well with others, proficiency in academic disciplines alone is not enough. The business world is looking for team players.

“Indeed, successful workers, managers and CEOs of tomorrow will less and less be those who only achieve high test scores. They will be men and women with highly evolved ‘people skills.’ Negotiation, problem solving, listening — these are the chief skills of leadership and citizenship.”

In October 2000 The Josephson Institute of Ethics and the Character Counts! Coalition released these startling findings in the 2000 “Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth.”

” Cheating: 71 percent of all high-school students admitted they cheated on an exam at least once in the past 12 months.

” Lying: 92 percent lied to their parents in the past 12 months.

” Stealing: 40 percent of males and 30 percent of females said they stole something from a store in the past 12 months.

” Drunkenness: One in six students said they had been drunk in school during the past year.

” Violence: 68 percent said they hit someone because they were angry during the past year, and 46 percent did so at least twice.

“There is a solution: more pervasive and proficient character education at home, at schools and on the sports fields,´ said Roy Kinnamon, chairman of the Character Counts! Coalition. Those interested can read the entire release at

This year during the annual Torch Awards for Marketplace Ethics ceremony, the Mountain States Better Business Bureau will give special recognition to the Fort Collins Rotary Club for their program in local schools promoting ethical decision making based on the Rotary Club 4-Way Test.

The test is a simple, yet powerful set of questions that serves as a guide to the things we think, say or do. The 24 words that make up the four questions of The 4-Way test are as pertinent today as they were when Rotarian Herbert Taylor wrote them in 1932:

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?

For many decades Rotarians around the world have used The 4-Way Test as an instrument to develop respect and understanding among people. The Fort Collins Rotary Club has gone further to create a highly praised program that places Rotarian business men and women in the classroom to spearhead decision-making exercises based on the ethical principals of The 4-Way Test.

This local program began in 1994 at Lesher Junior High School with teachers inviting Rotarians into the classroom to lead round-table discussions with 12- to 15-year-olds. Today, this is the most popular community program of the Fort Collins Rotary Club. It fills a critical need for character and moral education in today’s young people and places the Rotarian businessmen and women in touch with their future work force.

Any business owner or stakeholder must be aware of the bottom-line benefits of the commitment to ethics within a company. The benefits include everything from improved financial performance and reduced operating costs to enhanced reputation and customer loyalty, increased productivity and quality and the ability to attract and retain employees.

Today’s young people are the business leaders of tomorrow. The Better Business Bureau salutes the Fort Collins Rotary Club for working to protect our future by not only “choosing to do the right thing” in their own businesses and communities, but ensuring that the ethic of “choosing to do the right thing” will be a standard-bearer for future businesses.

The climate and attitudes we develop today in our young people will become the climate and attitudes of our communities and businesses tomorrow.

Pam King is President/CEO of the Mountain States Better Business Bureau.