Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?
by Wee Mama, Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 02:30:48 PM EDT
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.
THE THREE SIEVES
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.
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.