Rotary “Four-Way Test” Essay

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JoAnna Hofstaedter
Rotary “Four-Way Test” Essay
Fall is by far my favorite season. The sights, the smells, the brilliant sunburst of color as the trees change hues — there is something distinctly beautiful about the time of year. And as summer tank tops and Bermuda shorts are replaced by fleece jackets and blue denim jeans, the days spent lazily by the pool become distant memories as school resumes once again. It was on one of those gorgeous fall days early in the school year that I was walking home from the bus stop and noticed something strange. Veering toward the middle of the street, I bent down to pick up a small black object that lay mixed in with the leaves. It was a wallet. Upon closer inspection, I learned from the driver's license behind the clear plastic frame that it belonged to an older man who lived just a couple houses up the street.
At the time, the proper course of action seemed obvious. Returning the lost item to its owner would be the right thing to do. There was no hesitation or qualms on my part. I immediately turned around and walked back toward the address listed on the driver's license. However, in that first instant when I realized what the object was and who it belonged to, I had multiple options to consider. I could have just as easily pocketed the wallet and continued my walk home, eighty bucks richer. But whether I realized it or not, I quickly ran through the checklist of the four-way test and determined that keeping the wallet would not be the morally correct thing to do. The values that I believe in and that are the guidelines behind the four-way test steered me in the right direction and inspired me to turn around and deliver the wallet to its rightful owner on that day.
Returning the wallet, with its contents completely intact, was the honest thing to do. If I had kept a few dollar bills for myself and then returned the wallet, my worried neighbor most likely would have never even noticed, relieved just to know that his credit cards are no longer missing and his identifying personal information has not fallen into the wrong hands. However, that would not be the full truth nor would it be fair. The old playground saying of finders keepers does not apply. The lost money still belonged to him. If the roles were reversed, I would be very upset if someone took the hard-earned money I saved from my summer job. And so, I chose the honest and fair route of knocking on his front door with the wallet in hand.
When I had explained what had happened, he was extremely happy and relieved that his valuables had been returned. He thanked me profusely and explained how he had just discovered the wallet was missing and was about to report the loss. It eased his mind to know that his possessions were safe. I learned that he was a recent widower, but had been living in the neighborhood for a very long time. Though we lived pretty close to one another, this encounter was the first time we officially met. From then on, I would wave or stop to say hello to him whenever I passed by on my way home from school, and he would greet me as well. The act of kindness fostered goodwill and formed a pleasant friendship between us. Both of us benefited from my honesty in returning the wallet. His worries were put to rest, and I gained a new friend out of it. Additionally, despite my protests, he wanted to show his gratitude by giving me a small monetary reward. And so at the end of the day, I did end up a couple bucks richer, but I could feel proud of the way I handled the situation.
My experience with the wallet is just one of many examples in which I have applied the four-way test to my life. Each and every decision I make is chosen with careful regard to the values of honesty, fairness, goodwill, and concern for others. These ideals are what make the world a better place. Choices that are thought through and are consistent with basic moral principles invariably will lead to more good decisions. Next fall will bring a change far greater than just the start of a new season. I will be beginning my career as a college student, experiencing more freedom than I have ever had before. With this newfound independence comes a great deal of responsibility. I will be faced with countless large and small decisions that I must make on a daily basis. As I transition into this new phase of my life, I will to continue to live according to the principles of the four-way test. And with these values held dear to my heart, the future looks as bright as the sunburst of color painted by the trees on a breezy fall day.

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