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Are your actions positive? Would they pass Socrates’ Test of Three?

Reflecting on acting in a positive fashion, both in word and deed, I remembered this wonderful little anecdote, from the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, that I thought I’d share it with you:

In ancient Greece (469 – 399 BC), Socrates was widely lauded for his wisdom.

One day the great philosopher came upon an acquaintance who ran up to him excitedly and said:

“Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students?”

“Wait a moment,” Socrates replied. “Before you tell me I’d like you to pass a little test. It’s called the Test of Three.”

“Test of Three?”

“That’s right,” Socrates continued. “Before you talk to me about my student let’s take a moment to test what you’re going to say. The first test 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.”

“All right,” said Socrates. “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not. Now let’s try the second test, the test of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?”

“No, on the contrary…”

“So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something bad about him even though you’re not certain it’s true?”

The man shrugged, a little embarrassed.

Socrates continued. “You may still pass, though, because there is a third test – the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student 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?”

I think we could all benefit a little from using this filter more 🙂


What do YOU think?! Please do share your thoughts: