If there is a trait I want my kids to have, it is kindness. Being kind to others brings more kindness to your world. I want my kids to be kind and feel that they are surrounded by kind people.
Unfortunately, they are not always surrounded by kind people. At least not as many as I would like. It is frustrating, because I can’t choose who they hang out with. When they were 5 or 6 years old, I could monitor their surroundings (even then it was not 100% of the time), but the more I wanted them to experience the world, the more I had to let go of this desire to control whether they hang around kind people or not.
My youngest daughter is now 13 years old and is experiencing lots of the not-so-kind things her friends say about one another. There is a constant struggle for popularity and power through gossip and talking about others behind backs. As her parents, Gal and I think this is the opposite of kindness and we don’t want our daughter to be part of it.
Talking about other people who are not present is not always bad, but to be kind, we need to filter what we say. Our family rule is only to say nice things about others and “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything”. The more brutal version is “When you have nothing good to say, shut up!”
The Greek philosopher Socrates had a very logical way to tackle the same problem. He called it the Triple Filter Test. Here is a nice story that explains Socrates’ way of deciding whether or not to talk about others behind their back.
Truth, Goodness of Heart and Usefulness
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 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?”
“Well, 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?”
“Umm, no, on the contrary…”
“So”, Socrates continued, “You want to tell me something bad about my friend, 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?”
I guess even in ancient Greece people gossiped about each other behind their backs and it was not the way to be kind even then. I believe if we follow these simple rules, the world will be a kinder place.