Stories and the Three Socratic Filters

Late in the autumn it was the annual visiting day at the Cloister of the Sisters of Mary Magdalene. Sister Beatrix was delighted to see that several of her sorority sisters from college had made the trek and were there to see her. They all gathered together in one of the gardens, settled in with some lemonade, and were ready to catch up on the events in each other’s lives.

Some time passed, and they filled Beatrix in on the births, deaths, dating and mating moments each of them had lived through since they had seen each other. They were ready to fill her in on some tidbits that they had heard about some of their other sorority mates when Beatrix remembered the postulants’ lesson from that very morning. She blushed a bit, but bravely held up her hand and said, “Hold on just a moment girls. I hate to be a wet dishrag in our re-bonding moment, but I’ve got to run this by you. Just this morning here in the cloister we were studying the Socratic Filters and”

“Wait Beatrix,” said one of the sorority sisters, “remember, I was a philosophy major! Don’t you mean the Socratic method?”

“Well, actually, I do mean the Socratic Filters. Here at the cloister, we pledge not to speak unless our words can pass through the three Socratic Filters. So, the first filter is truthfulness. Are you sure that what you are going to tell us is actually true?”

And the Georgina allowed as how she could not be certain because she heard the story from someone who had heard it from someone else.

Beatrix then continued, “Well, if you are not certain of the truthfulness, then is the story generous, good or kind?”

Georgina smiled, and said, “well, I don’t think I would say it is so kind, but it is juicy!”

Beatrix laughed shaking her head and said, “Well if you don’t know for sure if the story is true and it isn’t generous, good or kind, then there is still one more filter: is it useful or necessary for us to know?”

Georgina managed to scowl, smile and smirk all at the same time as she allowed as how there was not actually any utility in the story, other than giving them all a laugh, but at someone else’s expense.

And, Beatrix replied, “if the story is neither true; nor generous, good or kind; nor useful or necessary, let’s move on to something else that will cheer our minds, hearts and souls?”

Georgina thought about this for a minute, and managed to get out a bit of a laugh and said, well, I can see your point. I sure as shootin wouldn’t want someone saying that kind of stuff about me – even if it was true! Which of course it would not be, because I am a perfect little angel.

And they all had a good laugh at the thought of Georgina being an angel. To which she replied, “ah, but my friends, that statement passes the second Socratic filter, it is generous and kind!” And they all laughed even more deeply.

Advertisements

Forest Gump, Saint Peter, Authenticity and Truth

Life and death are grave matters, but that does not mean that we should necessarily always and everywhere take them or ourselves too serious. And yet, all things quickly pass away, even our most beloved Forest Gump. And so it came to be that gentle Forest Gump, with box of chocolates and small suitcase in hand, following a drifting feather found himself at the Pearly Gates. And there, larger than life was Saint Peter waiting to greet him.

The gates behind Saint Peter were closed, but Peter warmly greeted Forest, “Welcome, Forest! It is good to see you. We’ve heard a lot about you, and have enjoyed following your adventures. But, I need to let you know that there have been some new administrative changes here, and we are now requiring everyone to pass an entrance exam before they can pass through the Pearly Gates. The test is short, but you have to pass it before you can get into heaven.

Forrest smiled offered Saint Peter a chocolate from his box, and said, “Well, Saint Peter, I am indeed happy to be here. I didn’t know nothin’ about an entrance exam. I certainly do hope it is not too hard. Life was kinda hard as it was, a good bit of a test right there is you ask me.”

Saint Peter thoughtfully chose a chocolate, bit into it, savored the flavor, and continued, “Forrest, thank you very much for the chocolate. We don’t get much of that here. It is a most pleasurable treat. And the test is a short one, only three questions. The first question is, what two days of the week begin with the letter T?”

Forrest sad down on his suitcase, thought for a moment, and then responded, “Why sir, I do believe that I know the answer to that one, it is Today and Tomorrow.”

Saint Peter chewed on his lower lip to hold back a smile, thought about it, started to say something, thought for a second more, and then said, “Well, Forest, you are not wrong. So, then you must be right. Good for you. And now the second question, how many seconds are there in a year?”

Forrest was a bit taken aback at this question. He furrowed his brow, sat deep in thought for a bit and then smiled and said, “Ah, Saint Peter, there are twelve seconds, of that I am certain.”

Saint Peter’s eyes fluttered, he involuntarily took half a step back, and asked, “Forest, how in Heaven did you come up with twelve seconds to fill a whole year?”

Forrest said, “Well, when you first asked me the question I was kind of scared by it ‘cause I’m not that good with numbers but then it just sort of came to me, there is January second, February second, March second, April second.”

Saint Peter interrupted Forrest and said, “OK, Forrest, I see where you are going. That is not quite what I had in mind. But your explanation is cogent and coherent, and so I will count that answer as correct also. Now, Forrest the third question is the most difficult, and the most important. So please take your time and think about it carefully before you answer.”

Forrest assured Saint Peter that he would indeed be thoughtful in his response. He suggested that maybe they should both have a chocolate to prepare themselves. Saint Peter gladly agreed, and when they each finished savoring the sweet, Saint Peter asked Forrest, “What is God’s first name?”

Forrest leapt up off his suitcase, set his box of chocolates on top of it, hugged Saint Peter, and said, “Well Saint Peter, that’s the easiest of all your questions! God’s first name is sure enough ‘Andy’ I just know it.”

Saint Peter looked ashen and positively startled, even as a half smile peeked out under his beard. “Forrest, how do you know that God’s first name is Andy?”

Forrest replied, “Well, Saint Peter that just is no secret at all. Every Sunday in Sunday school when I was young and now often enough on a Sunday in church we all sing the song with God’s name:

Andy walks with me,
Andy talks with me,
Andy tells me I’m his own.”

And Saint Peter threw open the Pearly Gates and said, “Run, Forest, run. Welcome home!”

 

A dear friend shared this story with me the other day. Her pastor used it as part of his sermon to highlight the importance and value of being true to ourselves – authenticity. And indeed, if we will build a world where justice prevails and human dignity is respected, then we first need to know and respect ourselves. We need to be comfortable enough with ourselves to simply be ourselves where ever we are, who ever we are with. I do believe that reciprocal warmth, authenticity and genuineness are core elements of respectful relationships.

And, as I thought about the story, I found myself peeling back another layer as well – a truthfulness layer. I found myself thinking about epistemology – how do we know what is true, what is truthful, what is an accurate representation of what we believe to be reality? Clearly Saint Peter knew the answers he was expecting to the three questions he posed. And, yet, he was open to recognizing the veracity of Forrest Gump’s responses within the context that Forrest presented. And for me that is the heart of the story – the delightful caution to take care to wonder at the world through which we wander; to never to too absolutely sure that we know the one and only truth. Let us all wander through this wonderful world with open and generous hearts, minds and hands.