Tony Leighton is a Canadian writer happily retired and attempting to help others feel the same.

A Valuable Discipline to be Worn Loosely

There’s a filter that fits over human beings that can be used to great effect before opening one’s mouth. It’s known as “The Three Gates of Speech.”

My wife reveres it. I want to revere it enough to ensure that it governs my speech. (It so seldom does that I’m wondering who’s actually in there, me or someone I don’t know.)

The three gates are three simple questions to ask ourselves before speaking:

Is it true?

Is it necessary?

Is it kind?

Once you get used to using the filter, it takes about two seconds. If the world did it, we’d be in a sort of paradise.

Where did this elegant device originate?

No one knows. In a lavishly exploratory article that rose from the Internet when I searched “The Three Gates,” BP Morton, who I’d never heard of before, entertainingly takes us through the history of the gates. Attributed to Rumi, they are most likely not his invention. They could have come from some other long-gone Sufi. They have been used by Eleanor Roosevelt and Ann Landers, as well as various authors and poets of the 19th century. The Rotary has a similar “Four-Way Test,” devised in 1930, that goes like this:

“1) Is it the truth?

2) Is it fair to all concerned?

3) Will it build goodwill and better friendships?

4) Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”

Good stuff. Hard to execute. Blurters beware. Mea culpa.

BP Morton, further along in the article, lets us off the hook somewhat with this:

If we wish to be morally careful in our speech, then the exercise of holding ourselves in check and reviewing a list of considerations makes sense. Perhaps we have erred on the side of carelessness in the past and we are training ourselves to be more careful. But it is possible to err on the side of over-caution as well in speech or actions. Sometimes we must risk saying the wrong thing, in order to say the right thing at the right moment.

So, yes, as I age and reach for wisdom and maturity, I want to avoid saying things that are not true, not necessary, and, certainly, things that are not kind. I want the filter to function. I also want to forgive myself when, in moments of incautious and possibly joyful exclamation, I err, and it’s worth it.

Because, says Morton:

…sometimes we spill out noises, or words, or songs. Shouts of joy. Cries of pain. Complex theories. Poems. Songs of praise. Skeptical expressions. Well-worn “I love yous.” Here sometimes we encounter a genuineness beyond caution in which we are as we are rather than holding our self in check.

So, The Three Gates is a filter worth affixing, but don’t wear it too tightly.



Vocabuteria: tranche