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The Test of the Three Strainers

Rev. Joseph M. Esper

This article was first published on September 23, 2018.

The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates was widely known for his wisdom and integrity.  One day a man came to him and said, “Master Socrates, do you know what I just heard about your friend?”  The philosopher interrupted him and said, “One moment, please. Before you tell me, I would like you to pass a test—the three strainer test.”  “The three strainers—what are they?” asked the would-be gossip. Socrates explained, “Before telling all kinds of things about others, it is good to take time to filter what we would like to say.  That is what I call the test of the three strainers.”

The man listened in silence as Socrates continued, “The first strainer is the one of truth.  Did you check if what you wish to tell me is true?” “No,” admitted the man; “I only heard about it.”  “So then,” said the philosopher, “you do not know if it is the truth. Now, let us try using a second strainer:  the one of goodness. Is what you want to inform me about something good?” “Oh, no,” the man answered; “just the opposite!”  “Then,” Socrates went on, “you want to tell me bad things about him and you are not sure they are true.”

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The wise man continued, “Maybe you can still pass the test, because the last strainer is that of usefulness.  Is it useful that you inform me about what my friend could have done?” “No, not really,” was the response. “So then,” Socrates concluded, “if what you have to tell me is neither true, nor good, nor useful, why do you want to tell me about it?”

This is a fair question to ask ourselves when it comes to any form of gossip.  The leader of a newly-formed support group was very concerned about this issue, so he and the members of the group came up with a simple rule:  THINK. Before saying anything about another person, they had to ask themselves these questions:

T—Is it True?

H—Is it Helpful?

I—Is it Inspiring?

N—Is it Necessary?

K—Is it Kind?

If what they were about to say did not pass these tests, they learned to keep their mouths shut.  This simple method worked very well for them, and so this particular group was never afflicted with the curse of rumors and gossip.

All of us can benefit from a simple method such as either one described here—for idle words can do more harm than we realize.  Jesus warned us, “On the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).

Let us therefore strive to put aside all rumors, gossip, and unkind words, and speak only in a way that glorifies God and truly benefits the people around us.

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