Tuesday, February 05, 2008

True, Good, or Useful ...

Socrates (469 - 399 BC)

Annie and I are indebted to our Christian missionary friends David and Alisan currently working in Namibia for this gem of wisdom. It is for all of us involved in the world of business, leadership and management ... indeed life in general ....

In ancient Greece (469 - 399 BC) Socrates was widely lauded for his wisdom. One day the great philosopher came upon an acquaintance who ran up to him excitedly and said

"Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students?"

"Wait a moment," Socrates replied. "Before you tell me I'd like you to pass a little test. It's called the Triple Filter Test."

"Triple filter?"

"That's right," Socrates continued. "Before you talk to me about my student let's take a moment to filter what you're going to say. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?"

"No," the man said, "actually I just heard about it and..."

"All right," said Socrates. "So you don't really know if it's true or not. Now let's try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?"

"No, on the contrary..."

"So," Socrates continued, "you want to tell me something bad about him, even though you're not certain it's true?"

The man shrugged, a little embarrassed.

Socrates continued. "You may still pass the test though, because there is a third filter - the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?"

"No, not really"

"Well," concluded Socrates, "if what you want to tell me is neither true nor Good nor even useful, why tell it to me at all?"

The man was defeated and ashamed.

This is the reason Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem.


steve said...

I'm sure my grandmother never read Socrates, but she shared a bit of the same wisdom with me when she to be sure that everything I said should meet at least two of the following criteria: Is it true, is it kind, is it necessary.

Mike said...

"This is the reason Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem"...until the establishment decided he was teaching their youngsters dangerous ideas and had him killed, that is.

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Mike – Would you agree the ‘establishment’ is often wrong as we all know and witness every day in politics.

Steve - Aren't Grandmothers wonderful? Both mine lived to great old ages and I am so pleased to have known their wisdom.

A.G.Robinson said...

There is similar wisdom that comes through the Buddhist tradition. First you question "Is it true and useful?" Then you can add "Is it kind?" There is also a quote from Voltaire: "If only the true and useful things were recorded, our huge historical libraries would be reduced to very narrow dimensions - but we would know more, and know it better."

Trevor Gay said...

Brilliant - thank you AG

crossbeak said...

It also explains why he never found out that Plato was having an affair with his wife.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks crossbeak - fascinating commment!