The Test Of Three

Keep this philosophy in mind the next time you either hear or are about to repeat a rumor.

In ancient Greece (469 – 399 BC), 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.”


“That’s right, Socrates continued. Before you talk to me about my student let’s take a moment to test what you’re going to say.”

The first test 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.”

All right, said Socrates. “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not.”

Now let’s try the second test, the test 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 though, because there is a third test – the filter 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 True nor Good nor even Useful, Why tell it to me at all?”

The man was defeated and ashamed.

We can also look at the “Test of Three” from the point of view of Yamas and Niyamas. Something being True corresponds to the Yama called “Satya” Which implies being True in word and thought. Something being Good corresponds to the Yama called “Ahimsa”. This corresponds to doing no injury or harm in thought or deed. And finally something being Useful corresponds to Aparigraha or Non-possessiveness. If something is useful you do not want to keep it for yourself but share it with the world. (And doing so in a selfless manner without bolstering your own ego.)

What Socrates was doing was in-effect saying that if you were to follow the Yamas then you would speak less and cause no harm by your speech. Of course limiting speech is not enough. If you take what Socrates is saying to its logical conclusion then you would understand that since thought preceeds actions you would correspondingly restraint your thoughts.

We can now see that Socrates’s teachings are in line with the core values of Yoga. This is the reason Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem.

This story has been adapted from the Socrates story we got in e-mail.

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