How I have applied the principles of truth, love and justice in my work

Let me briefly describe how I have applied the principles of truth, love and justice in my work. I have to make many decisions regarding the welfare of the students, staff, faculty, community and institution. My decisions are based on my best judgment of what was true, loving and just. I do not pretend to know what the truth, love and justice are, but believe the best decisions will be made as we harmoniously try to understand and apply of these principles. In applying these principles in my life and work, I have developed what I call the Three-Way Test (after the Rotary Four-Way Test): 1) Is it true? 2) Is it loving? 3) Is it just?

The first and most helpful thing I generally do is to ascertain the truth.  Often by distinguishing between what we believe and what is true clarifies or solves the problem. For example, one of the policies I have is no fault finding or backbiting, as these common but destructive practices destroy morale and generally violate all three principles. If anyone says bad things about someone else or reports unkind said by someone else, the first thing I would do is to try to ascertain the truth. I talk to the parties involved to hear their sides of the story. Did they say or do what been reported? Often they had not or had not intended it in the way it was taken and the problem was solved. If they had said something disparaging, then the question of why is addressed along with the three-way test questions. I will generally endeavor to first determine the truth, then to discuss what is just and loving.

In one case a faculty member came to me complaining about what another person had said about him. To get closer to the truth, I asked a series of questions to better understand the truth. How did he know this was true? In this case, a someone had told him that the other person had made this disparaging comment. What was he told? What he was actually told was different from what he was telling me had been said about him and could have been taken in several ways. How did he know that what he was told was true? He didn’t. It became clear that he was making conclusions based on a lot of second hand and unreliable information—unverified and imagined “truths.” While he was sitting in my office I called the person who supposedly made the offending comment on the phone and asked her if she had. She had not and did not have these feelings at all about the offended professor. She had said something, but it was quite different that what was reported and would not do anything at all to hurt him.

These kinds of situations happened with students, staff and faculty fairly frequently at first, but, as everyone learned that everyone would be treated with honesty, compassion and fairness, they themselves started to apply these principles to their problems and solved them before they escalated. As I modeled truth, love and justice, they became part of the culture of our workplace. In our daily interactions, the language and practice of truth, love and justice could be heard and seen more and more.

When we had to make decisions, the question of what is just was considered. Justice required being fair not only to the individuals in questions, but to the greater communities and institutions of which we were a part. We served as trustees of the public, profession, program, university and state. We needed to regard our responsibilities to all of these entities. In addition, as we were preparing teachers, and we had to make decisions that bore in mind the welfare of the future children our candidates might be teaching. Were we being true, loving and just to them?

The most vital principle is love, though it is generally more felt than talked about. If the people with whom I worked did not feel I genuinely cared about the them, they would not be inclined to come to or listen to me. I do care about my colleagues and let them know it in my words and actions. This authentic concern for the welfare of others cannot be faked for long. It is the hardest of the virtues to be cultivated. It is the only one of the three that is universally positively regarded—truth and justice are not always easy to give or receive, but love is.

The question is it loving has several components—am I being loving, what would the loving thing to do be, what does love look like to the other parties, what would increase love for all. In answering these questions about love, it is usually helpful to ask questions about truth and justice, as these should guide the appropriate loving response. Any one of these virtues without the other two can be out of balance and harmful. Justice needs to be based on truth and is a foundational for love. We are most challenged to develop love when we are dealing with unlovable people. When we are dealing with liars and tyrants and those who do not honor truth and justice, our love must not be misinterpreted to condone or allow this behavior. True love should increase truth, love and justice for all. In other words, if you truly love the dishonest, tyrannical and bad people, you will interact with them in a way that will most likely contribute to their positive growth.

As we apply the three-way test in our daily activities, our lives and those around us will improve. The book I am writing will try to do apply these principles of truth, love and justice to the challenging problems of education.

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About rodclarken

Dr. Rodney H Clarken is professor emeritus, School of Education, Northern Michigan University.
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