Column for the week of December 14, 2009
Spread the Word:
One day in ancient Greece an
acquaintance met the great philosopher Socrates and said,
"Socrates, do you know what
I just heard about your friend?"
"Hold on a minute,"
Socrates replied. "Before telling me anything I'd like you
to pass a little test. It's called the Triple Filter Test."
"That's right," Socrates
continued. "Before you talk to me about my friend, it might
be a good idea to take a moment and 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 friend something good?"
"No, on the contrary..."
"So," Socrates continued,
"you want to tell me something bad about him, but you're
not certain it's true. You may still pass the test though, because
there's one filter left: the filter of Usefulness. Is what you
want to tell me about my friend 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?"
There would be no or little gossip
if everyone followed Socrates' Triple Filter Test. But that is
not the case. Gossip runs rampant.
It's no wonder legendary American
humorist Erma Bombeck said: "Some say our national pastime
is baseball. Not me. It's gossip."
Someone has calculated that,
if a rumor was started at midday, and was repeated within two
seconds by everyone who heard it to two other people, who repeated
it and kept the cycle going, by about 6:30 p.m. the same day
everyone on earth would have heard it.
Of course, the Internet has brought
gossiping up to warp speed. A rumor posted online can make it
around the world in milliseconds. And although the post may seem
anonymous and, therefore, "safe," the damage is potentially
irreparable. Snopes, the urban legends reference site, can't
debunk everything, after all.
Office gossip in particular is
a major concern for a number of reasons. The Triple Filter Test
could prevent plenty of misunderstandings and hard feelings in
the workplace, where teamwork and cooperation are often central
to productivity. How does someone work with another who insists
on passing along information that may not be true, good or useful?
Spreading rumors about co-workers
can create a hostile environment that customers will pick up
on. This is a good reason for avoiding gossip. Plus the fact
that I've seen many deals go down, due to gossip.
As advice columnist Dear Abby
said, "It is almost impossible to throw dirt on someone
without getting a little on yourself."
So clean up your act! The Triple
Filter Test is simple to use. Truth alone is not enough reason
to spread gossip. Who doesn't have an embarrassing truth that
they want to remain private? And while good news may seem harmless
enough, is it your news to share? But perhaps the most compelling
reason to avoid gossip is the usefulness test. How will the information
be used? I'm betting it won't be for positive reasons.
Maybe you've heard about the
three ministers who went fishing. They were good friends, each
of whom was a pastor at different churches in the same town.
While they were fishing they began confessing their sins to each
The first pastor said, "Do
you know what my big sin is? My big sin is drinking. I know it's
wrong, but every Friday night I drive to a city where no one
will recognize me, and I go to a saloon and get drunk. I know
I shouldn't, but I can't help it. It's my big sin."
The second pastor said, "Well,
to be honest with you, I've got a big sin too. My big sin is
gambling. As a matter of fact, you know all the money I raised
for that mission trip to India? I took it to Las Vegas instead
and lost it all. I'm so ashamed. My big sin is gambling."
Finally it was the third pastor's
turn. He said, "Guys, I probably should have gone first,
because my big sin is gossiping."
A word can be more powerful than
Harvey Mackay is a nationally
syndicated columnist for United Feature Syndicate. His weekly
articles appear in 52 newspapers around the country, including
the Chicago Sun Times, Rocky Mountain News, Orange County Register,
Minneapolis Star Tribune and Arizona Republic.
Copyright, Harvey Mackay. All rights reserved.