Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

My best friend when I was small was a Friend. Her parents were birthright Quakers active in prison reform and nuclear disarmament. As a child I saw the homelier side of Quaker practice - the silent meetings, the delicious treats at the annual bazaar and an early introduction to the three-fold sieve.


A LITTLE boy one day ran indoors from school and called out eagerly: "Oh, mother, what do you think of Tom Jones? I have just heard that ----"

"Wait a minute, my boy. Have you put what you have heard through the three sieves before you tell it to me?"

"Sieves, mother! What do you mean?"

"Well, the first sieve is called Truth. Is it true?"

"Well, I don't really know, but Bob Brown said that Charlie told him that Tom ----"

"That's very roundabout. What about the second sieve -- Kindness. Is it kind?"

"Kind! No, I can't say it is kind."

"Now the third sieve -- Necessity. Will it go through that? Must you tell this tale?"

"No, mother, I need not repeat it."

"Well, then, my boy, if it is not necessary, not kind, and perhaps not true, let the story die."

Join me over the fold -

The version above is from The Children's Story Garden, stories collected by a committee of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1920. Other versions you may encounter include  the Four Way Test "of the things we think, say or do" that Rotarians ask: "Is it truth?  Is it fair?  Will it be beneficial to all concerned?" Google turns up many links for it to the guru Sai Baba in this form, "Before you speak, ask yourself: Is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence?" It probably entered the public realm though through a poem called "Three Gates" written in 1835 by Beth Day and said to be "after the Arabian":

If you are tempted to reveal

A tale to you someone has told

About another, make it pass

Before you speak, three gates of gold.

These narrow gates: First, "is it true?"

Then, "is it needful?" In your mind

Give truthful answer.  And the next

Is last and narrowest, "Is it kind?"

And if to reach your lips at last

It passes through these gateways three,

Then you may tell the tale, nor fear,

What result of speech may be.

This three-fold filter is also attributed to the Sufis, perhaps an indirect source of the poem. A Unitarian sermon on this develops the specific applications in detail, as does this yoga meditation.

I would probably make a poor Friend. My imagination is too ready to come up with hypotheticals where it might be kind and necessary to say something untrue, or something unkind might nonetheless be both true and needful. Even with this wiggle room, though, my hunch is that if each and every one of us would at least ask ourselves these three questions before posting something, there would be multiple benefits.

Less infighting! It's just hard to start or sustain a good fight if the posts filtered out by these questions are not on the scene.

Wider influence! More temperate arguments can reach a broader audience, and make ground with people who might be unwilling to listen if they are yelled at.

Better diaries. If everyone would ask themselves these three questions, then the need for careful research and thoughtful wording would be a large part of the writing and editing process.

Before you tell me that politics is hard knuckle and we can't afford to stick to what is true, kind and necessary, remember this: Gandhi, Mandela, Tutu and King would have passed this test. I would be perfectly delighted to be "only" as effective as this company!

---------------------------------------- ----------------

(Aside: the Sai Baba quote is on a page rife with other good quotes, including this one which is especially apposite to political blogs)

The five stages of innovation

  1. People deny that the innovation is required.
   2. People deny that the innovation is effective.
   3. People deny that the innovation is important.
   4. People deny that the innovation will justify the effort required to adopt it.
   5. People accept and adopt the innovation, enjoy its benefits, attribute it to people other than the innovator, and deny the existence of stages 1 to 4.

©AC 2005. Inspired by Alexander von Humboldt's 'Three Stages Of Scientific Discovery', as referenced by Bill Bryson in his book, 'A Short History Of Nearly Everything'.

Not applicable of course to courageous early adopters of innovation everywhere.

Early adoption of innovation might not be natural to everyone - but it is an option worth considering, especially if you have a feeling that the present situation can be improved.

Tags: Civility, truth (all tags)



Re: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

Lightly edited for a second glance at daylight, but it seemed apposite for the current events ---

by Wee Mama 2008-06-01 02:32PM | 0 recs
Re: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

What a wonderful reminder of a gentler time. Sadly it serves no purpose here, a website that resembles more the muddy 1920 moss-covered, loose-femur-exposed post-war trenches of France, than say, a child's garden of verses. But thanks for the moment of sunlight through the gloom. I'm busy trying trying to pour sulpher on full-blown Ickies-infection on my leg stump. The phantom pains should pass, they tell me.

by Lettuce 2008-06-01 02:40PM | 0 recs
Re: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

well, you may wish to change your sig.

it goes both ways.

by colebiancardi 2008-06-01 02:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?


I loved the Clintons. Still may some day. But I don't understand why they diss Move On. It was created for their benefit.

by Lettuce 2008-06-01 02:44PM | 0 recs
Re: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

She didn't diss them.  She stated that they did not agree with her and she didn't agree with them in this primary.

that is the truth - moveon endorsed Obama.  

by colebiancardi 2008-06-01 02:45PM | 0 recs
Re: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

I'd do a little reading into Bill's latest rants on Move On. And Hillary's more recent rants against them. It's a bit more strident than that. Like lithium strident. But like the group's name, and my name suggests... lettuce Move On

by Lettuce 2008-06-01 02:47PM | 0 recs
Re: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

((((((thank you for changing your sig.)))))

by colebiancardi 2008-06-01 03:22PM | 0 recs
Re: moveon endorsed obama

and when repubs brought up vote to condemn moveon, Obama didn't even bother to cast a vote in defense of his big supporter, moveon.  Hillary did bother and, defending moveon, voted against the condemnation.

by moevaughn 2008-06-01 03:07PM | 0 recs

you should add a McCain link to your sig.  It is the cool thing to do and it hurts John McCain.

by Student Guy 2008-06-01 02:46PM | 0 recs
To quote someone else, despite all that has

happened, I believe people have the capacity for good. We need to be kind to each other.

by Wee Mama 2008-06-01 02:42PM | 0 recs
Certainly worth reminding us
We live in a very fast-paced society - we over-commit to tasks and things we have to do. Technology magnifies that which the best and the worst about human nature. This lovely story with such a diverse, cross-cultural background should be required reading for all as we move into the new phase of the national campaign. Thank you.
by pan230oh 2008-06-01 03:26PM | 0 recs
So glad it spoke to you!

When they are applied consistently over time, they form habits of thought and feeling that work wonderfully together for the good ---

by Wee Mama 2008-06-01 03:31PM | 0 recs


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