· The cure for gossip, hypocrisy, and lies
Shakespeare offers definitions that send the best dictionaries sprawling. Who could match this terse description of hypocrisy? “Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile, / And cry ‘Content’ to that that grieves my heart, / And wet my cheeks with artificial tears, / And frame my face for all occasions.” That was in the play, Henry VI.
In short, watch the people you fancy gossiping and lying about others! It might be too early to tell, but as the iconic playwright cautioned (in the tragedy, Macbeth): “There’s no art / To find the mind’s construction in the face.” The message is that YOU could be the coming attraction in the next season!
“The Four-Way Test”
As an antidote against lies, gossip, and hypocrisy, what comes to mind readily is the Rotary Club’s “The Four-Way Test” about the things we think, say or do. I got to know of the Rotary test years back after a speaking engagement at a Rotary function in Accra, where I was presented with a certificate framed with the following questions about my delivery: 1. Is it the TRUTH? 2. Is it FAIR to all concerned? 3. Will it build GOODWILL & BETTER FRIENDSHIPS? 4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
The questions made such an impact on my thinking that in subsequent invitations by other Rotary chapters, I took students along with me for the experience. And for a deliberate effect, I’d get some students to join me for the pictures, receive the certificate, and for them to post it visibly in their class. It’s never too early or too late to learn that truths, fairness, and goodwill are beneficial to everybody.
Gossip can be a deadly rattle, especially the ones concocted to smear and destroy others. Some have become so good at smearing that it’s become a second nature to them. They hear one petty thing – and with no regard for any truth – they weave a salvo of slander around it to demean others. The danger – bordering on madness – is where one unwittingly believes their own lies. As they say in these cunningly fake times, repeat a lie so many times and it fashions an “alternate truth”.
I have reproduced the following conversation received recently from a friendly teacher:
Of Socrates and the filter test
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.”
“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?”
In Judaism, speaking negatively about people counts as sinful as it demeans the dignity of man – including both the speaker and the subject of the gossip. Islam considers backbiting like eating the flesh of one’s dead kin. Accordingly, backbiting harms its victims without offering any chance of defense, just as dead people cannot defend against their flesh being eaten.
In Christianity, in gossiping about others we harden our hearts against them. We create a gap between ourselves and God’s love for all humanity.
In Buddhism, the message of non-violence and peace is rooted in love and compassion – in understanding and tolerance – in truth and wisdom – and liberates one from hatred. Buddhism further proposes that one overcomes falsehood through truthfulness, and wickedness through kindness.
I conclude this column with a composition by the jazzy blues singer affectionately known as Lady Day. To feel the emotive tone in her voice I am listening to her sing as I write. She had been bitten often, and you feel the sentiment as she poured her heart out in the song. Titled, “Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone,” the lyrics run as follows:
“Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone … / And listen, if you can’t say anything real nice / It’s better not to talk at all / That’s my advice.” Amen!