Columnists Mark my words

Don’t keep this advice so hush-hush

by Father Mark Goldasich

Those old enough to remember Herman’s Hermits will no doubt recognize these lyrics:

“There’s a kind of hush all over the world tonight.”

The song was a hit for the group in 1967 and later for the Carpenters in 1976. It’s what I imagine the planet would sound like if the advice from the following story were ever taken to heart.

A little boy once ran indoors from school and called out eagerly, “Oh, Mother, what do you think of Tom Jones? I just heard that . . .”

“Wait a minute, my boy,” interrupted the mother. “Have you put what you heard through the three sieves before you tell it to me?”

“Sieves, Mother? What do you mean?” asked the boy.

“Well, the first sieve is called Truth. Is what you’re going to tell me true?”

“I don’t really know,” replied the son, “but Bob Brown said that Charlie told him that Tom . . .”

Again, the mother interrupted and said, “That’s very roundabout. What about the second sieve, Kindness. Is what you’re going to tell me kind?”

“Kind!” exclaimed the boy. “No, I can’t say it’s kind.”

“Now the third sieve, Necessary. Will it go through that? Must you tell this tale?”

“No, Mother,” sighed the son, “I need not repeat it.”

“Well, then,” said the mom. “If it’s not necessary, not kind, and perhaps not true, let the story die.”

The version above is adapted from “The Children’s Story Garden,” stories collected by a committee of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends in 1920. Sadly, it doesn’t appear we’ve made much progress in the almost 100 years since this story was printed.

Remember these three golden questions:

Is it kind?

Is it true?

Is it necessary or helpful?

If we asked ourselves these questions before speaking, there would certainly be a lot less said and much less nastiness unleashed in the world. And if we then applied those questions to what we post on social media, probably the thing we’d see the most on Facebook would be recipes!

I’m not sure that the world is markedly worse than in 1920, but, with the ease and anonymity of internet posts, we’re much more aware of what dwells in people’s minds and hearts. It’s as if there are no longer any filters — or sieves — online, and that uncharitable harshness has oozed out into the real world.

A simple remedy, especially for those of us who are Christians, is to ask those three questions — is it kind? true? helpful? — before communicating with one another. Did you ever notice that the words “silent” and “listen” have the same letters? I don’t think that’s just a coincidence. The two go together.

Most of us, however, are so busy mindlessly blabbing our opinions that we rarely hear, let alone actually listen, to one another. Our interactions have turned into a cacophony of chaos and cattiness.

There are, though, examples of what life could be like if we change our daily habits even a little. Pastor Jay Kesler, of Upland Community Church in Indiana, once questioned an “Outstanding Trooper” recipient about what the governor said to him privately during the ceremony.

The trooper replied, “He said, ‘You haven’t once roughed up a drunk or used excessive force on anyone. How can you be a state trooper for 15 years, dealing with the stuff you deal with, and have that happen?’”

“Two things,” the trooper replied. “First, if I am called to break up a fight at a tavern, I never say to myself, ‘There’s a drunk.’ I always say to myself, ‘There’s a man — someone’s husband, son, neighbor — who got drunk.’ I try to think of him as a man, not a crime.

“Secondly, the Bible says that a soft answer turns away wrath. So whenever I walk up to the window of an automobile, I always speak a little softer than the person I’m speaking to.” (Found in “1001 Illustrations That Connect,” edited by Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof.)

Now that’s great advice: Think of someone as a person first, not as a political party, a minority, a particular religious group or an action. Then, speak a little softer than the person you’re speaking to. These two things flow naturally from those three golden questions of: Is it kind? Is it true? Is it helpful?

Try out these behaviors this week in your verbal and online communication and watch a “hush of kindness” spread all over the world.

About the author

Fr. Mark Goldasich

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