Three Gates

by Tim Griffin, copyright 2022

The first amendment of the U. S. Constitution
Recognizes five freedoms in one resolution
But with these rights come responsibilities.
For speech, consider a guy named Socrates,
An ancient Greek who made an excellent suggestion:
Before we speak, we should ask three questions:

Is it true? Is it useful? Is it kind?
I’m in favor of free speech, but if you don’t mind
I’d like to tell you about the three gates of Socrates
‘Cause they belong on the top of your bill of responsibilities.

Gate one, is it true?
Ooh, here’s an exciting allegation somebody shared with you
That fits your worldview and all your friends are repeating it
But if you can’t confirm it, consider deleting it.
But wait, you got multiple sources? Great!
But if they’re all feeding from the same plate
Or working for the same news network
Then it doesn’t add up to independent corroboration,
It’s only repetition of dubious information.
Speech is a right, but it’s your responsibility
To speak the truth to the best of your ability.

Is it true? Is it useful? Is it kind?
I’m in favor of free speech, but if you don’t mind
I’d like to tell you about the three gates of Socrates
So we can keep free speech on our bill of responsibilities.

Gate two, is it useful?
When I read some text about an actor and his ex
I don’t need every detail about their mess!
I’ve got enough stress, just like the rest of the nation
So spare us this insidious ubiquitous titillation.
A real reporter reports a real story
Instead of only amplify inflammatory oratory
If you want more followers, step up and lead
Stop reporting and repeating and resharing and retweeting
Every silly celebrity scandal that is bleeding in the headlines tonight
Speech is a right, but once in a while
Try to speak for substance, not for style.

Is it true? Is it useful? Is it kind?
I’m in favor of free speech, but if you don’t mind
I’d like to tell you about the three gates of Socrates
Because we need free speech on our bill of responsibilities

Gate three, is it kind?
You don’t have to be like sunshine and rainbows all the time
But if the only motivation of your speech is for spite
Then it may feel cathartic but you’ve already lost the fight.
Cruelty is easy but you don’t have to retweet it
And nasty notes in the comments will be deleted.
But hey, someone said or did a bad thing, you say?
Listen, I do ten dumb things on a good day.
Before you do another dog-pile denunciation
Of every unintentional micro-aggression situation
First try a few words of kindly correction;
And maybe your recipient is ready to receive a lesson
Or maybe not, but at least you should try
Because if you hate being cancelled, how’s it okay for that other guy?
Speech is a right, but whenever you can
Try to speak with kindness; it’s like water to a thirsty man.

Is it true? Is it useful? Is it kind?
I’m a huge fan of freedom but I have to remind
You about the three gates of Socrates
So we can keep free speech among our self-regulated liberties.

In conclusion, free speech is the oxygen of democracy
And what I say today may even sound like hypocrisy
But paradoxically, before we let ‘er rip
Free speech requires a little bit of  self-censorship;
Which does not mean you should not speak your mind
But first: Is it true? Is it useful? Is it kind?
If you can’t say Yes to at least two out of three
Maybe don’t re-peat or re-share or re-tweet
Until you  re-consider what you wanted to say
Or maybe just say the same thing in a better way
Speech is a right, but think before you talk
Because liberty and responsibility have got to walk the same walk.

Notes

The story about Socrates and the three gates of speech is probably apocryphal, as it appears nowhere in Plato's works. Nonetheless, the three gates are an excellent filter for speech, particularly on social media where we often forget it is an actual person on the other end of the line. More importantly, the three gates may provide a useful entry to the tricky subject of how to balance our liberties with the self-discipline required in a free society.