The Test of Integrity

A short conversation between Socrates and a friend reminds us to think before we speak

In Ancient Greece, Socrates was renowned for his wisdom. One day, someone said to the great philosopher, ‘Do you know what I heard about your friend?’

‘One moment,’ replied Socrates. ‘Before you tell me, I would like you to think through the three sieves.’

‘The three sieves?’

‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘Before saying anything about others, it’s good to take the time to filter what you mean. I call it the test of the three sieves.

‘The first sieve is TRUTH. Have you checked that what you’re going to tell me is true?’

‘No, I just heard it.’

‘Very good! So you don’t know if it’s true. We continue with the second sieve, that of KINDNESS. What you want to tell me about my friend – is it good?’

‘Oh no! On the contrary.’

‘So,’ continued Socrates, ‘you want to tell me bad things about him and you’re not even sure they’re true? Maybe you can still pass the test of the third sieve, that of UTILITY. Is it useful for me to know what you’re going to tell me about this friend?’

‘Not really.’

‘So,’ concluded Socrates, ‘what you were going to tell me is neither true, nor good, nor useful. Why, then, did you want to tell me this?’
His companion had no response.

‘Gossip is a bad thing,’ said Socrates. ‘In the beginning, it may seem enjoyable and fun. But, in the end, it fills our hearts with bitterness and poisons us.’