There is a popular story about Socrates on gossip, on how when a disciple comes to the senior teacher asking if he knew what was being talked about his favourite disciple, and at that moment, the teacher decides that this was a major teaching moment, and enunciated the famous triple-filter test: Do you know if this is absolutely true? Is what you want to say a good thing? And lastly, is this a useful thing for the listener to know?
The true-good-useful filters have famously been used to check on malicious gossip, and have been adopted by a number of thinkers and doers, including a modified version by the Rotary Club as: Is it true? Is it fair? Will it build goodwill? And Is it beneficial?
If you are in Bengaluru, you could see them engraved on a bronze plaque under a bust of the Rotary Founder on Lavelle Road.
By the way, there is a side story that claims that because Socrates was so vehement on applying this filter that he never heard gossip and therefore never confronted his partner about a supposed affair. We don’t know if this is documented in history as having happened, but most people hearing the story and this particular side story, apart from having a good laugh, nod away as if agreeing that it served Socrates right for being so principled.
Would you listen to gossip about your loved one? If a friend says they have heard something about your partner, would you apply the three (or four) filter test?
For a lot of us, we will want to ask the questions of truth, fairness etc after we hear a bit of the report. We would let them say some, if not all, of what they want to say, say nothing and go check with the partner in question, or harangue the teller of the story then and there about how they know what they said, how they could prove it etc, showing concern if not outrage, or succumbing to tears and despair, depending on what is the story.
More pertinently, it really is based on your own assessment of yourself and your relationship. If you feel secure about yourself and your relationship, you are very likely not to listen at all to any gossip about someone you love and conversely, if you are quite insecure, then you will likely listen to every scrap of gossip possible about yourself, your partner and your relationship.
If you look at it from this lens, then really, your readiness to listen to gossip about your partner is a test alright, but a test for how secure you are about yourself and you relationship. If you fail that test by listening to gossip, then you may want to think about what is making you feel less that secure and work on it. Talk with your partner by all means, but not necessarily about the gossip – talk about your insecurities and how you need to work on them.
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.