An email message from an acquaintance with whom I hadn’t communicated for years. It read:
I shouldn’t have gossiped. Even if you were wrong, and I never intended to gossip, I apologize for passing along to others what I thought I heard you say that you said you didn’t say.
Painful incident, but long ago. Six years? Maybe seven? Who can remember? Except for all the behind-the-back second and third hand whispers. Those I do remember.
Come to think of it, I will call the others and tell them…
Oh, please don’t. Wasn’t it enough to tear apart friendships that first time? To divide worshippers in the church? Please don’t start again!
As the story goes, Socrates, in ancient Greece–400 BC, or so–was approached by an acquainance bubbling over with news. “I just heard something about one of your students and must tell you!” the man said
But Socrates stopped him. “Only tell me news that has been filtered through the Triple Filter,” he cautioned.
In answer to the man’s blank look, Socrates expained, “The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure what you are about to tell me is true?”
The man said he had not. He had only just heard it himself.
“So you don’t really know about it’s truth,” said Socrates. “The second filter is Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student good?”
No, the man said, it was not.
“So you want to tell me something bad about him that may not be true?” Socrates asked.
By that time, the man surely wished he were somewhere else.
“Still, there is the third filter of Usefulness,” Socrates said. “Is this news of use to me?”
The man conceded that it was not.
“If it is not true or good or useful, why tell it to me at all?” Socrates asked.
Here’s how Harry Belefonte put it in a song popular back in my day:
Gossip, gossip, evil thing,
Much unhappiness it brings.
If you can’t say somethin’ nice, Don’t talk at all is my advice!
That voice out of my past? I deleted it.
On second thought, maybe I should have sent him a singing telegram!
“Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.”