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Values Test: Is It True? Is It Kind? Is It Necessary?

crying for help
By: Robert Agthe

I couldn’t resist passing on this list of questions posted in a nearby eye glasses shop. Behind the counter, taped to a shelf, a simple piece of white paper poses the questions:

Is It True?

Is It Kind?

Is It Necessary?

I’m assuming that “it” refers to words and actions the employees and customers are about to say or perform. What else could it be?

For years I’ve been a customer of this local business—that’s me crying on the bench with broken glasses :-). I regularly need my prescription updated or frames tightened. But unlike that child’s caretakers, the employees’ in this store have given me outstanding customer service. I suspect their list of test questions may have something to do with that.

That simple list in plain sight reminds them, and patrons like me sitting on the other side of the service counter, of values that most of us have probably heard from preachers of morality we’ve encountered along life’s path: parents, good teachers, diligent priests or ministers, and even books we’ve read. Isn’t it easy to recognize the peace-making qualities of speech and behavior that results from YES answers to those questions? Granted, sometimes it is hard for us to answer YES to all three questions at once. Oh, if we only did what we “should” all the time!

Uh oh, now what about us?

Most mentally healthy people know whether what they say is true or not. We desire to speak truth as best as we can. But what about in abnormal circumstances? I’m thinking of what’s called “the good lie,” which is beautifully portrayed in the movie by the same name, starring Reese Witherspoon. When you are up against an evil situation trying to overpower you (like in the movie) what do you do?

As for question #2, Is it kind? I’ll wager most people are aware of whether their words and actions are kind or deliberately mean. (Guess I’m an optimist, or at least I am trying to be one today.)

I’m wondering, though, about the last question, “Is it necessary?”

What is necessary?

You’ve met them. People who talk too much all the time, blab useless gibberish more than offering anything of value, or over-disclose on a regular basis. Is all that really necessary? Or are we adding to noise pollution when we act like that? We all do it occasionally but what happens when any of that becomes habitual? Mmmm …

As for my writing life, this question reminds me of author Annie Dillard’s exhortation to writers in her 1989 New York Times article, “Write Till You Drop.”  Here is my favorite part of the entire essay, as bleak or stringent as it may sound:

“Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?”

And so, what about this question, “Is art necessary?” We could ask, Necessary to what? Living better? Being better? Thinking better? I trust we hold the answer to those questions as a self-evident YES.

Kirkus Reviews: Undertow

“If a research branch denies its own findings due to the will of one man, then surely trouble is afoot. A frank and in-depth account of one woman’s struggle in a controlling organization.” — Kirkus Reviews

For the complete review, click here ⇒ Kirkus Reviews

Thanks for wondering along with me today.

Your writer on the wing,


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10 Responses

  1. Ned Kessler
    | Reply

    Charlene, thank you for the reminder about the need for kind and thoughtful speech. I know I need a reminder about this every now and then.

    However, perhaps even more valuable to me is the paragraph from Annie Dillard’s article, which I read (thanks also) because of the link you so thoughtfully provided. I think I really need her advice right about now. Thanks again!


    • Charlene L. Edge
      | Reply

      Annie Dillard is one of my favorites. Keep up the great work you are doing. When our stories reach even one person, they are worth writing … that person is the author. Any reader, in my view, is the second person. Am sending good writing vibes your way!
      Warmest wishes for productive work,

  2. Roz
    | Reply

    Good thoughts, Charlene. Thanks.

  3. Billy Williams
    | Reply

    For most of my life, I have been a pretty quiet person. That has changed some, having become more outgoing in my later years (which is now BTW 🙂 ). But I still don’t like gabby people (with one important and extremely humbling exception). Talk is a lot like economics. (This meteorology major in college took the first two courses in the economics major program; that makes me an expert). The more words there are the lower value each word has. As far as mentally healthy people knowing what they say is true or not, I would shade that a bit to say many are convinced of whether or not what they say is true. A very simple example would be a pair of competing CEOs each “knowing” that their like product is better than their competitor’s. Both statements can’t be true, but can you be sure that either one is lying? They could both really be convinced that their product is the better one. I use that example to avoid getting into politics, where seeing the truth can be like watching a 3D movie without the glasses….blurry, double vision, etc. BUT one thing I always assume is true, without blatant evidence to the contrary, is someone’s testimony about what happened to THEM. That is the value I found in “Undertow”, and before that “Losing the Way”. Now, I’ll stop blabbing. (applause please).

    • Charlene L. Edge
      | Reply

      As always, it’s great to hear from you, Billy. Agree with you about always being able to 100% identify “the truth.” Our ongoing challenge …

  4. John Arnett
    | Reply

    Hoyt will probably remember Hilda Spalding (Garland’s wife) who was fond of quoting the following poem from “The Arabian”:

    ……Three Gates…….

    If you are tempted to reveal
    A tale to you someone has told
    About another, make it pass,
    Before you speak, three gates of gold.
    These narrow gates: First, “Is it true?”
    Then, “Is it needful?” In your mind
    Give truthful answer. And the next
    Is last and narrowest, “Is it kind?”
    And if to reach your lips at last
    It passes through these gateways three,
    Then you may tell the tale, nor fear
    What the result of speech may be.

    — from The Arabian

    John Arnett

    • Charlene L. Edge
      | Reply

      This is lovely, John. Thanks for sharing the poem, which, from the looks of it, the shop owners may have used as inspiration for their little sign.
      And yes, Hoyt remembers Hilda Spalding.
      Warmest wishes,

  5. Robert Gain
    | Reply

    I just read your book. My wife grew up in the way. From a catholic background myself, i decided to find truth in the last 3 years.

    Please look into ravi zacharius.
    ..lots of youtube videos.
    From prayer life and asking for truth i believed i found it.

    • Charlene L. Edge
      | Reply

      Thank you for reading Undertow. I hope it shed some light on the experience for you and for your wife.
      I respect your sharing your view about Ravi Z, but I no longer am on the path of evangelical Christianity.
      Warmest wishes,

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