EDITORIALS: Applying the test

A local pastor recently shared the following story during a sermon on the dangers of the human tongue.

* * *

In ancient Greece (469-399 B.C.), Socrates was widely lauded for his wisdom. One day the great philosopher came upon an acquaintance who ran up to him excitedly and said, “Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students?”

“Wait a moment,” Socrates replied. “Before you tell me, I’d like you to pass a little test. It’s called the Test of Three Cups.”

“Three cups?”

“That’s right,” Socrates continued. “Before you talk to me about my student let’s take a moment to pour out the dregs of what you’re going to say into the three cups and see what is left.”

“The first cup 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,” Socrates interrupted. “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not.

“Now let’s try the second cup, the cup of goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?”

“No, on the contrary-”

“So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something bad about him, even though you’re not certain it’s true?”

The man shrugged, a little embarrassed.

Socrates continued: “You may still pass the test, though, because there is a third cup-the cup of usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?”

“No, not really.”

“Well,” concluded Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither known to be true, nor good, nor even useful, why tell it to me at all?”

The man was defeated and ashamed. This is the reason Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem.

* * *

One wonders what the impact would be if people took to heart Socrates’ Three Cup Test in the conversations we enter not only in our churches, but also at the coffee shops, workplaces and casual get-togethers around our small towns. The silence might be deafening at first, but ultimately it might be healing, too.-DR

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