Hello Hump Day readers. It’s a hazy New Mexico afternoon today as I put my thoughts to writing for your mid-week devotion. As I was perusing through my stash of quotes and stories, I remember one that I had from a friend on Facebook, it was a story with an ending quote by Pope Francis, called “A Truth Worth Reading.” After a short search, I found it and I thought it may resonate with you as it did for me. So hang on, we’re going back over 2,000 years to the wisdom and truth of Socrates! (469–399 B.C.)
In Ancient Greece, Socrates had a great reputation of wisdom and he was well-trusted because people knew he was telling the truth. One day, someone came to find the great philosopher and said to him: “Do you know what I just heard about your friend?”
“A moment,” replied Socrates. “OK, before you tell me, I would like to test you on the three sieves.” The man replied, “The three sieves?” Socrates continued, “Yes. Before telling anything about the 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 the TRUTH. Have you checked if what you’re going to tell me is true?” The man hesitated, “Ah—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?” The man cringed, “Oh, no! On the contrary.” Socrates questioned him, “So, you want to tell me bad things about him and you’re not even sure they’re true?” The man shook his head saying ‘no.’
“Maybe you can still pass the test of the third sieve, that of UTILITY. Is it useful that I know what you’re going to tell me about this friend?” Now the man was squirming, “No, really, ah-I guess no.” Then Socrates concluded, “So what you were going to tell me is neither true, nor good, nor useful. Why, then, did you want to tell me this?” The man had nothing to say, he bowed his head in honor to the man of wisdom and walked away.
Pope Francis likes to use this story as a major talking point, and adds the ending saying: “Gossip is a bad thing. In the beginning it may seem enjoyable and fun, but in the end, it fills our hearts with bitterness and poisons us, too!”
It is so easy for us to get caught up in gossip that we don’t realize we are doing it! This story from Socrates reminds us how to filter truth so we can speak and act with wisdom. Actually, when I read this on FB I looked up the “3 Sieves” and it was well known in those days. Most folks attribute the story to Socrates, some say Plato and history has no attributes for the quote. Actually, it makes sense as Socrates never wrote anything down anyway.
I have a sieve—we call it a strainer and its job is to sift out what you don’t want and keep what you do want. The story of the ‘3 Sieves’ is just that – filtering out what is not true so you can find the nugget of wisdom worth sharing. No nugget – then don’t share but sadly, we get attached to the sensationalism of today’s tabloids and our “sieve” is not doing any filtering.
In Leviticus 19:16, God said “Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD.” Hundreds of years later, the Apostle Paul reminded the people in Ephesus of this law again saying, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)
If we want healing in our society, our relationships, our churches and our families, we need a filter—a ‘3 Sieves’ so to speak, for our minds and our mouths! Before we speak, blog on social media or call someone with tasty tidbits of gossip, we must ask ourselves is this KIND—it is TRUE—and is it USELFUL? We know the instructions when we’re mad—before we lash out at our kids or friends, etc., we’re supposed to take 10 seconds and breathe…then we can re-coup our thoughts and say words of wisdom, love, care and instruction.
I think that’s the same idea we should apply to our propensity to gossip. Ask God to give you his sieve and let the Holy Spirit do her work in filtering what is kind, true and useful. I can’t imagine the change it would make for us and others if we adopted Socrates ‘3 Sieves’ in our conversations. It just might make us a better people and a better world-AMEN!