July 31, 2023

“The three sieves” for communication and consumption

In the vast world of ancient philosophical anecdotes, the story of the “Three Sieves” occupies a special place. This wisdom story, often attributed to Socrates, is a masterful guide to self-reflection and a powerful reminder of the importance of discretion and judgment. It is therefore also found in other sources such as Buddhism.

The story begins with a man coming hurriedly to Socrates and saying, “Listen, Socrates, I must tell you what your friend has done…” Socrates interrupts the man and asks him a question, “Did you sift what you want to tell me through the three sieves?”

Confused, the man asks, “Three sieves? What three sieves?” Socrates then explains, “Well, let’s look at it together. The first sieve is the sieve of truth. Are you sure what you’re about to tell me is true?” The man confesses that he is not sure if it is true or not.

Socrates continues, “Well, then we have two more sieves. The second sieve is that of goodness. Is what you’re about to tell me something good?” The man answers that it is not good. That the opposite is the case.

Socrates nods and says, “There is one last sieve, the sieve of necessity. Is it necessary for you to tell me?” The man admits that it is not necessary. Socrates then smiles and says, “If what you are about to tell me is neither true, nor good, nor necessary, then you better leave it alone and not burden yourself or me with it.”

The wisdom story of the “Three Sieves” contains a powerful message about the importance of truth, kindness and necessity in our communication. It invites us to pause and reflect before we speak, and to filter our words through these three sieves.

The message is timeless and universal: it reminds us that not everything we hear or say is at the same time true, good and necessary. By learning to filter our words and thoughts through the “Three Sieves,” we can help avoid conflict, improve our relationships, and promote more conscious and considerate interactions.

In our fast-paced, information-overloaded world, the story of the “Three Sieves” offers a useful strategy for managing rumors, misunderstandings, unnecessary drama, or re-verified presuppositions. It teaches us to choose our words carefully and increase the quality of our communication. In the end, the story of the “Three Sieves” leads us to a deeper truth: true wisdom lies not only in knowing, but in understanding when and how to share that knowledge.

We should also apply the three sieves in reverse to our consumption:

Is what I am about to consume true, good or necessary?

Everything we hear is processed by our mind.
Be it unconsciously, or even consciously.

This is true for song lyrics, even if we only listen to them and do not actively listen, as well as for the movies we watch or the news we read.
And the more often we hear things, although we are often unable to verify their truthfulness, the more they become our reality, become what we believe.

And anyone who has practiced mindfulness and gone into a retreat to meditate for a few days will have quickly noticed how many of the things we have consumed, whether consciously or unconsciously, keep our mind busy for some time, so that it jumps around wildly like a wild monkey pen and finds it difficult to rest.

Image from N_defender on iStock

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