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The Four-Way Test and the Path Less Taken: Choosing integrity in matters of the heart

Each year the Rotary Club of Tehachapi sponsors an essay contest for elementary, junior high and high school students. Following is the essay from the 1st place high school winner. See list of winners at https://www.theloopnewspaper.com/story/2024/03/02/community/rotary-essay-contest-winners/11881.html.

My hand slid into my pocket and my fingers brushed against the cool metal of the coin as I forced air into my lungs. My body trembled slightly as I considered the challenges that were before me. I prayed silently, then pulled the coin out of my jeans, flipping the piece absentmindedly in my palm. The words inscribed in the metal had become etched in my mind, but I read them anyway. “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?” I caught my reflection in my Four-Way Test coin and took another deep breath, this time holding it briefly before allowing the air to escape past my lips. I slid the piece back into my pocket and resolved to face the challenges staring back at me. The Four-Way Test is a series of questions that help decipher if a solution to a problem you are contemplating is the best one. The questions reveal whether or not the solution you are considering is going to be fair, true, good, and beneficial, or not. This test, along with my faith and belief in God, helped me to make a difficult decision which I truly believe has shaped me into the person I am today. The question tasked myself was this ... do I change my convictions and principles in pursuit of a closer romantic relationship with my best friend, or do I trust God to see me through the alternative?

With this question in mind, I considered the first part of the Four-Way Test: “Is it the truth?” It asks the people involved if their communication is honest and to truly consider if they are being honest with themselves. Are their motives in the right place? Is the solution being twisted to benefit one more than the other? Truth is important because it builds trust and provides a stable foundation for a relationship. I applied the truths of the first question to my dilemma and decided that my faith is the truth and that I should make it the priority and the basis for all my decisions. In addition, I knew that truthfully, if I were to continue pursuing a romantic relationship with my best friend, our priorities and values would constantly be clashing, thus adding an unnecessary difficulty to the relationship. With the first question decided, I continued on to the next.

An answer to a problem must also be fair to all concerned, which is the second question of the test. How does the solution impact others? Does it provide justice to the situation and equality to all parties involved? Fair and equitable opportunities must be provided. The solution may also require a social duty, which brings more weight and responsibility to the decision. When the end result is being tested in a situation, consider if it is the most fair. With my question, the result of “just being friends” did not feel fair, and even now, months later, it feels unfair. However, given my priorities, this was the least unfair option to our relationship situation. I knew that it would be wrong to continue in a direction that held the potential to further harm both of us. The question of our relationship had already caused us a lot of hurt, and while recounting that, and praying about the situation, it was decided that it would be more fair for us to be just friends.

“Will it build goodwill and better friendships?” Is the solution providing genuine relationships and connections? Building trust and positive relationships should be the goal when deciding on a solution. When considering this aspect of a fix, seek out common ground and open communication to achieve conflict resolution. My best friend and I had been close for a long time before we started to shift to a romantic mindset. The change in the relationship created conflict and forced us to decide if we should continue forward or to stop the progress down that path and remain just friends. He and I had a genuine friendship, which added to the difficulty of the situation we were facing. We trusted each other and had a real connection, but I knew that I had to trust in God more to see me through the hardship of losing the romantic side, or even the friendship side, of us. The eventual decision to remain friends did result in a drift in our friendship and significant changes to both as people. Nevertheless, I trust that both of us will find the person we are intended to spend the rest of our lives with when the time is right.

Are there positive consequences? What are the long-term consequences? This must be considered and leads to the last question of the test: “Will it be beneficial to all concerned?” The outcome of maintaining a friendship has provided benefits for both of us that were unforeseen at the time. For him, he has had great growth in his work life and spends more of his time learning, working, and being with his family. I have grown in my spiritual life and my relationship with God has strengthened significantly. Through my experience, I have had many friends and family share that I have demonstrated an impressive degree of faith and maturity, and that is an example of God at work in our lives. Lastly, losing a friend created a hardship, but I gained incredible perseverance and have been able to do exceedingly well in my classes and at work. While this period in my life has been a challenging one, many benefits have come from it.

Life presents many opportunities and decisions that range from which song to play in the car, to choosing a major for college, to deciding who to take a chance on romantically, but the Four-Way Test provides the essential questions that will help you consider all possible angles. When having to consider whether or not to change my strongly held personal beliefs for a relationship, the Four-Way Test helped me find a resolution that worked for me. Using the questions “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Is it beneficial to all concerned?” will help us to be better communities, to build trust in our interactions, and to be people of conviction, so let us consciously apply these questions in our daily lives. The questions we face may be difficult to answer, and there may be some discomfort involved, but we can create positive change and better the world around us using the Four-Way Test.