Before words get past the lips, the first gatekeeper asks, “Is this true?” That stops a lot of traffic immediately. But if the words get past the first gatekeeper, there is a second who asks, “Is it kind?” And for those words that qualify here too, the last gatekeeper asks: “Is it necessary?”
With these three on guard, most of us would find very little to say. Here I think it is necessary to make exceptions in the interest of good company and let the third gatekeeper look the other way now and then. After all, a certain amount of pleasant conversation is a part of the artistry of living. But the first two gatekeepers should always be on duty.
It is so easy to say something at the expense of another for the purpose of enhancing our own image. But such remarks – irresistible as they may be – serve only to fatten our own egos and agitate others. We should be so fearful of hurting people that even if a clever remark is rushing off our tongue, we can barricade the gate. We should be able to swallow our cleverness rather than hurt someone. Better to say something banal but harmless than to be clever at someone else’s expense.
“A smart person knows what to say. A wise person knows whether or not to say it.”