Wisdom Wednesday — Socrates Triple Filter Test
Each Wednesday, I am going to highlight a story or quote that may bring some insight, reflection and meaning to your day. The series will be called “Wisdom Wednesday”.
Today’s story of wisdom comes from Socrates, the Great Greek Philosopher. He used an ancient methodology for filtering out rumours called the “Triple Filter Test”. This is a simple three-step method for working out whether any new information is really worthy of being passed on.
Some of you may have read this before but I find it a very useful teaching tool when my students come and start telling stories about others.
In this electronic age of mass information sharing, almost anything we want to know is available to us at the touch of a button. Unfortunately, so are a lot of false claims, misinformation, and a greater tendency to spread rumours and gossip!
So, the story goes…
In ancient Greece, Socrates was visited by an acquaintance of his. Eager to share some juicy gossip, the man asked if Socrates would like to know the story, he’d just heard about a friend of theirs.
Socrates replied that before the man spoke, he needed to pass the “Triple-Filter” test.
The first filter, he explained, is Truth.
“Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to say is true?”
The man shook his head. “No, I actually just heard about it, and …
Socrates cut him off.
“You don’t know for certain that it is true, then. Is what you want to say something good or kind?”
Again, the man shook his head. “No! Actually, just the opposite. You see …”
Socrates lifted his hand to stop the man speaking.
“So, you are not certain that what you want to say is true, and it isn’t good or kind. One filter still remains, though, so you may yet still tell me. That is Usefulness or Necessity. Is this information useful or necessary to me?”
A little defeated, the man replied, “No, not really.”
“Well, then,” Socrates said, turning on his heel. “If what you want to say is neither true, nor good or kind, nor useful or necessary, please don’t say anything at all.”
How to apply the Triple Theory Test
In everyday life, it’s not easy to define the truth, the good, and the necessary. These are abstract concepts that are sometimes difficult to apply. That’s why there are also some additional questions that can help you when it comes to applying the triple filter test:
- The truth: Do I know for a fact that this information is true? Can I bet on it? Will I be able to prove it to anyone? Am I willing to compromise my reputation over this?
- The good: Does it benefit me or the other person? Will it make them or me a better person and evoke positive emotions? Will the situation of those involved improve?
- Is it necessary or useful: By knowing this message, will that person’s life or my life improve? Can that person take any practical action regarding this information or message? In what way does not knowing this information hurt or affect the other person?
Before you answer a question or voice your opinion, ask yourself the following simple questions:
Is it true?
Is it good?
Is it kind?
Is it useful?
Is it necessary?
If it passes these filters, speak up. If not, either find a tactful way to make it pass or better still, keep it to yourself.