Good advice from Socrates

Cindy ArpOur Town Outdoors

Is it true, is it kind, or is it necessary? I’ve heard and read those words many times, often with a nod to Socrates and an internal earnest vow to follow that wise man. It sounds straightforward, but a few conversations lately have made me realize that understanding and practicing those three words is more difficult and requires much more attention than you might think.

I was with a friend recently when she checked her ever-present medical device. I asked if everything was okay. Innocuous enough sounding, but for the one to whom the question is addressed, it can sound intrusive.

My friend gently reminded me that this was her body, her private moment, under control, and please don’t comment. My friend has dealt with her health issue for years and doesn’t need to be reminded of it. She lives with it every day.

Think of this as those times someone comments that you look really bad and is something wrong? Well, nothing was wrong until they said something! My words were unnecessary.

A while back, our son and daughter-in-law went to the climbing gym. Our daughter-in-law is an excellent, strong climber who, since becoming a mother, doesn’t climb as much as she used to.

Good climbers are either tall and lanky, or small, but with great technique. The later describes our daughter-in-law. At the gym, another small woman said, among other things that, “You can do this route because I can do it and we’re the same height.”

It was annoying. Our daughter-in-law called it “spraying Beta.”

Beta is a term used in climbing circles to depict knowledge of a climbing route. To spray Beta means someone is giving unsolicited advice about the route. Think of this as conscious or subconscious one-upmanship disguised as encouragement. I can do this, so of course you can, the underlying message being of course I can do this, can you?

These are not the helpful words of encouragement we’ve all given to others we know; these are words given without a thought to the person’s abilities and background. The words weren’t necessarily true and could have potentially caused hurt.

The last of Socrates’ advice centered around the question, “Is it kind?” We’ve all experienced those back-handed compliments; intentionally poor choices of words that cause anger and harm. Kind words are always appreciated, but one must consider all aspects of the comment. The last thing I want to hear as I walk away is, “Well, bless her heart, she meant well.” Think, think, think.

Truth, kindness, necessity – simple enough sounding but potentially lethal ideals. In our hurry-up world, taking a little time to consider my words more carefully, giving myself the space to think beforehand, is going to take practice, mindfulness and intention. Socrates gave the world a goal of daily thoughtfulness. Truth, kindness, necessity.

Cindy Arp, teacher/librarian, retired from Knox County Schools. She and husband Dan live in Heiskell.

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