Once there was a man who, after hearing an unflattering rumor about a friend of Socrates’, rushed to the philosopher to spread the gossip.
When he found him, the man said, “Socrates, you wouldn’t believe what I just heard about your friend.”
“Wait a moment,” Socrates replied, “Before you tell me what it is you want to say, let’s put it to a quick test. We can call it the Test of Three.”
“The Test of Three?”, repeated the curious man.
“That’s right,” Socrates said. “Here’s the first test: Is it true? Is what you wish to tell me about my friend something you’ve confirmed to be true? Or is it just hearsay that you are now spreading without any verification?”
Slightly embarrassed, the man replied, “Oh, well, I haven’t actually confirmed the story myself. I only just heard it in the marketplace.”
“I see,” said Socrates. “So you were about to tell me something that you weren’t sure to be true. Fine, let’s see if what you have to say passes the next test: Is it good?”
Again, the man blushed and slowly shook his head. “No, it’s not. It’s actually something bad,” the man confessed.
“That’s surprising,” said Socrates. “You hurried over to tell me something about a friend of mine that’s bad and might not even be true. Well, let’s see if you pass the third test: Is it useful?”
The man lowered his gaze feeling ashamed and said slowly, “No, I don’t think so.”
“I see. Well, if what you want to tell me is not true, not good and not useful, I suggest you don’t tell me at all.”
Gossip is akin to cancer in society. It spreads unnoticed and before we know it, much harm is done and there is no going back.
As humans, we enjoy creating and telling stories. That’s how our brains are wired. But we must be conscious of our intentions and know the facts well before we share any kind of information about a person.
Let’s think well before we say something. As we cultivate awareness in our speech and speak intentionally, we’ll naturally become a force of good and benevolence in society.
Something that I try to keep at the back of my head and can help you in this regard is this quote by Socrates himself, “Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.”
Let’s have a strong mind. Let’s be conscious and aware. Let’s focus on truth, not lies. And let’s minimize talking about people, and start thinking of ideas on how we can serve humanity in a better way.
It is very easy to fall into a constant loop of unconscious criticism and misunderstanding while involving ourselves in a conversation about a third person. And that’s why it’s incredibly important that we employ filters and make better judgments about the information we consume every day.
If you find yourself struggling next time, just put what you’re about to say through the Test of Three. And if it doesn’t pass, it’s better left unsaid.
In other words, speak only when you feel the words that you want to say are better than your silence.