A Triple Filter Test for the Holidays

December 7, 2012
Here are three questions Socrates suggested you ask yourself to keep from saying something that you may later regret.


As we go into the holiday season of parties and family get-togethers, we want to catch up on what has happened since we last met. In our enthusiasm, we might tell a story that would not pass the “triple filter test” of Socrates.

It is all too easy to pass on juicy gossip — I have been guilty of that myself. But when I think about the damage it might do, I avoid it whenever possible.

When I was recently at my son’s house for Thanksgiving, I read a children’s book by Madonna that tells the danger of passing on something that is untrue.

Mr. Peabody’s Apples is about a boy who tells others that a well-liked teacher and volunteer baseball coach has been taking apples from the local grocery store. Though it was not true, others believed him and everyone stayed away from practice.

When another boy tells Mr. Peabody what happened, the teacher asks the boy who started the rumor to bring a feather pillow and meet him at the top of a hill. Then the teacher cuts the pillow and all the feathers fly every which way.You see, he says, telling something about someone that isn’t true is like scattering feathers. You may be able to collect some of them, but you won’t get them all. After the boy collects as many as he can find and sews them into the pillow case again, it is a lesson he is always going to remember.

Here, then, is the “triple filter test” of Socrates by the ubiquitous  anonymous to help keep you from spreading rumors that should best be kept to oneself.



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 telling me anything, I’d like you to pass a little test. It’s called the Triple Filter Test.”

“Triple filter?”

“That’s right,” Socrates continued. “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?”

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?”

No, on the contrary…”

“So,” Socrates continued, “You want to tell me something bad about him, 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?”

This is why Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem.

 Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


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