Four-Way Test appeals to our better angels

tamrawilson Uncategorized

By now we’re all familiar with the images of Jan. 6 when a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol—the broken windows, the angry rioters on a rampage threatening Vice President Pence and other officials. Five people died in the melee, including a policeman.

The nation was outraged, and rightly so.

Such calamities light up social media, and this one has been no exception. A friend recently posted a notice on Facebook: if anyone among his friends supports Trump, please leave. “I no longer want you in my life,” he wrote.

This friend has a lot of company. Minds are made up. There is no backing down.

I chose not to engage him or the trolls lurking on the thread. I don’t need more heartburn. But at the same time, no one has the corner on truth. There are bits of truth on both sides of every argument. There are always gray areas.

This is why I find absolutism so troubling. Absolutists are always right because they think they’re never wrong. Such a posture leaves no room for negotiation or reconciliation or forgiveness.

Joe Biden says he wants to unify the country. He’s chosen the theme, “America United” for the inauguration. I didn’t know inaugurations had themes, but I hope our new President succeeds in appealing to the better angels of our nature.
We should all take a deep breath, refocus and find ways to work together. With a raging pandemic, unemployment, lockdowns, runaway debt; there’s plenty of work to be done.

Sadly, the U.S. Capitol has been turned into an armed camp. “Civil war,” a term once bandied about by the fringes of society, is now being speculated by mainstream media.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. American history teaches how true that was back in 1861. Yet in spite of the books and movies, there was little glory in the Civil War, a conflict that left more than 650,000 dead, and created 200,000 widows and a half million fatherless children. Four years of war left large parts of the country a smoking ruin. Half of all Southern wealth evaporated.

Let’s hope don’t have to learn that lesson again.

Actually the angry mob on Jan. 6 reminded me more of Parisian revolutionaries storming the Bastille in 1789. Last week’s rioters, like their French counterparts, were all about deposing their rulers, taking control of a system they believed to be oppressive and corrupt.

The Paris insurrection led to a 10-year Reign of Terror known as the French Revolution, during which tens of thousands were publicly executed, including the king and queen.

I don’t want to go there either.

When I think of reconciliation, I remember my days as a Rotarian. At the close of every meeting, members recited the Four-Way Test, a reminder of the importance of leading an ethical life in a free society. It’s a riff on the Golden Rule that goes like this:

The Four-Way Test of the things we think, say or do:

First, Is it the TRUTH?

Second, Is it FAIR to all concerned?


Fourth, Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Much of what we do—and post on social media—would be more civil if we asked ourselves those four questions first.

President Abraham Lincoln once said, “We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Lincoln included this paragraph in his First Inaugural address delivered on March 4, 1861 on the East Portico of the U.S. Capitol. As some 30,000 gathered, Lincoln made his way through a boarded tunnel for added security. Soldiers lined the streets. Riflemen were poised on rooftops, watching windows.

As Lincoln stood on the dais, he no doubt pondered the growing division in the country. The ongoing rift between free and slave states; North and South. Surely there was time to mend the nation before things boiled over.

Five short weeks later, on April 12, the first shots were fired on Ft. Sumpter.