There is a story often told about Socrates. One day while walking down the street, a man approached Socrates and said he had information regarding one of his students. Socrates interrupted the man and asked if he would perform a test before providing the information. The man agree and Socrates gave the man the test of the three sieves.
First, Socrates asked if the man was absolutely sure the information he was about to give was true. The man confessed that he had just overheard the information and was not absolutely sure that the information was true.
Second, Socrates asked if the man was going to tell him something good about his student. The man replied that in fact the information was not good. Socrates pointed out that the man was ready to give bad information regarding another person even though he did not know it to be true. The man stammered.
Third, Socrates asked the man if the information would be of some use to Socrates. The man thought for a moment and replied that he did not think the information would be of any use to Socrates.
Socrates asked the man why he would bother telling him information that was neither true, nor good, nor useful.
The story of the three sieves provides a perfect illustration of thinking before we speak. Proverbs 17:27-28 speaks of the wisdom of being careful with our words: “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” Sometimes not speaking shows far greater wisdom than speaking. This is true whether we are speaking to someone face-to-face or whether we are talking to others in the digital world of texting and social media.
I recently came across a “three sieves” test for posting online using an acronym with the word ‘think.’ I have slightly adapted the acronym and added Scriptural support to help us THINK before we post by sifting our words and thoughts through the following five questions prior to hitting “Share.”
T – Is it True?
Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.
H – Is it Helpful?
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
I – Is it Informed?
If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.
N – Is it Necessary?
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
K – Is it Kind?
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.