Perhaps you have played the Gossip Game. The first person in a group is handed a piece of paper with a gossip phrase or sentence written on it. This player reads the phrase but doesn’t show it to anyone else. He or she whispers the phrase to the next person in line, who whispers what they thought they heard to the next person, and so on down the line. The last person repeats what he/she heard to the entire group. The first person then tells the group what the phrase actually was.

If you have played the game, you know that the final report is always much different from what is was at the beginning. That simple game demonstrates how difficult it is communicate effectively and accurately. What one hears is not necessarily what is said. People “have the unique ability to listen to one story and hear another” (Pandora PoikilosExcuse Me, My Brains Have Stepped Out).

Cover of Review of General Psychology (medium)

The fact that language is not always a reliable vehicle for communication leads to gossip and the spreading of rumors.  Researchers wrote in a 2004 study in the Review of General Psychology: “In many cases defamation of the target’s character is not the primary goal, and may even be irrelevant.” Nevertheless, conversations or reports about other people or events easily result in details that are not confirmed as being true. It is just the way it works but sometimes it is intentional.

In the book, The Untrivial Pursuit, Joseph Epstein says, “Gossip is no trivial matter; despite its reputation. He also concludes that gossip has “morphed from its old-fashioned best—clever, mocking, a great private pleasure—to a corrosive new-school version, thanks to the reach of the mass media and the Internet.”

American poet and philosopher Criss Jami concludes that “Popular culture is a place where pity is called compassion, flattery is called love, propaganda is called knowledge, tension is called peace, (and) gossip is called news.” In this age of information, social media provides a much faster way to share gossip. In only a matter of minutes, gossip and rumors can spread online around the world.

When we are bombarded with information, how do we filter it? How do we separate useful information from gossip? The most obvious answer would be of course to use our common sense. However, that clearly doesn’t seem to be helping. This story of the Greek philosopher Socrates might help us make better judgments about the information that we consume on the internet or from any source.

 Image result for images of Socrates

In ancient Greece, Socrates was visited by an acquaintance of his. Eager to share some juicy gossip, the man asked if Socrates would like to know the story he’d just heard about a friend of theirs. Socrates replied that before the man spoke, he needed to pass the “Triple-Filter” test.

 

He explained, the first filter is Truth. “Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to say is true?” The man shook his head. “No, I actually just heard about it, and …”

Socrates cut him off. “You don’t know for certain that it is true, then. Is what you want to say something good or kind?” Again, the man shook his head. “No! Actually, just the opposite. You see …”

Socrates lifted his hand to stop the man speaking. “So you are not certain that what you want to say is true, and it isn’t good or kind. One filter still remains, though, so you may yet still tell me. That is Usefulness or Necessity. Is this information useful or necessary to me?”  A little defeated, the man replied, “No, not really.”

“Well, then,” Socrates said, turning on his heel. “If what you want to say is neither true, nor good or kind, nor useful or necessary, please don’t say anything at all.”

The Bible offers the following instruction that underscores Socrates’ instruction: “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts. Never say anything that isn’t true. Have nothing to do with lies and misleading words” (Proverbs 4:23-24Good News Translation).

Jamie Jenkins

 

 

 

 

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