There is a story about a philosopher who was always looking for fresh ways to pass important ideas onto his students.
One morning, a student who was keen to impress his teacher said, "I have just come back from the market and want to tell you something I overheard some people saying about you."
The teacher looked at him thoughtfully. "Before you tell me, I want you to consider three questions. Firstly, do you know if what they were saying is true?"
"No, I do not know if it is true. In fact, I am sure it is not true."
"If it is not true, why would I want to hear it?"
The student nodded slightly, reflecting on the teacher's reply.
The teacher continued. "I have second question. Is it good or kind?"
"No, it is unkind."
"So, it is untrue and unkind."
"Yes, it is untrue and unkind."
"There is a third question I'd like you to consider. Is what you want to tell me going to be useful to me?"
The student looked down, a little embarrassed. "No, not really."
"Well," concluded the teacher with a smile, "If what you want to tell me is neither true, kind or useful, why would I want to hear it, and why would you want to use up your time and energy thinking about it?"
The teacher in this story has been attributed to Socrates, to Buddha, to an Islamic philosopher and to a Protestant Missionary. Whatever the source, I think these three questions are a great reminder for us to consider what we say when giving an opinion or repeating something we have heard. Are we sure it is true? Does it have good intentions? Is it useful?
There is as aspect of human psychology that enjoys gossip, and even gains satisfaction from the misfortune of others (the Germans have a great word for this - Schadenfreude). So we need to be on guard to protect our organisational cultures from these mischievous tendencies.
For instance, something all franchisor leaders should to be vigilant of is Support Office people making derogatory comments about franchisees, even if these are made in jest. I have seen this cynical tendency creep into a culture when people have been working under sustained stress, and it can undermine a lot of good work.
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