As the saying goes, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Is this good advice? Is it even realistic advice? I mean surely, we can’t be expected to only speak if what we say is “nice,” right?
Well actually, the answer to that last question is kind of yes — we should be expected to speak only good and nice things, particularly about other people. But what about Hitler for example — surely we can and should speak of him honestly and in doing so, 99.99% of people would agree that there’s nothing nice to say about him. So yes, there are some people in which there isn’t anything “nice” to say, so have at it and speak freely.
But for the rest of us regular folk, I do think we should think before we speak ill of someone. No one is perfect, but for the most part, the majority of people are fairly decent, so why gossip about them or attack their character if we don’t need to?
This short story, “Testing for Gossip,” is a marvelous lesson on filtering what we say — thinking before we speak negatively about another person:
In ancient Greece, Socrates was reputed to hold knowledge in high esteem. One day an acquaintance met the great philosopher and said, “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. That’s why I call it the triple filter test. 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?”
– Author unknown
“Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.” This is a lie. What we say matters. The unkind things we communicate can soil the best of relationships; even with the deepest of regrets…what lingers is a stain of hurt that may fade but will never truly go away. The wounding words we say are like feathers released in a harsh wind, once said; we will never get them back.” – Jason Versey