The Writer’s Rule of Necessity

In law we have a doctrine called the Rule of Necessity. It’s applied rarely and narrowly. The rule allows cases that pose a conflict of interest for all judges to still be heard. In simple terms, if all judges are disqualified then any judge can hear the case.

For example, let’s say someone filed suit against a company the judge’s spouse works for. In order to avoid an appearance of impropriety or a claim of conflict of interest, the judge would recuse herself from the case and it would be assigned to someone else’s courtroom.

What if instead the person filed suit against the government. A person might say a judge has a conflict of interest in hearing the case because the judge’s paycheck comes from the government. But if all judges’ financial interests are involved (since all judges’ salaries are paid by the government) then who is left to preside in the courtroom? A judge has to be available in order to allow the case to proceed. Otherwise the person bringing suit is denied her First Amendment right “to petition the government for a redress of grievances”.

It’s a necessity.

Necessity of Comment

This blog’s comment policy relies on a quote from the movie Buckaroo Banzai.

“Hey, hey, hey, hey-now. Don’t be mean; we don’t have to be mean, cuz, remember, no matter where you go, there you are.”

It’s simple and not that hard to follow. Don’t be mean. Still, I occasionally get asked by a commenter what it means.

I found the answer.

Kenny Ray Pierce posted these verses penned by The Reverend Mr. Stewart, a Presbyterian minister who pastored a small church in Leghorn (that is, Livorno, Italy) in the mid-1800s. His influence extended far beyond his small congregation on the Tuscan coast, as noted in papers such as Evangelical Christendom, Its State and Prospects (vol. 2, no. 1, Jan. 1848, p. 250) and a string of correspondence with the British Colonial Department (August 1848) found in the record of the House of Commons.

Mr. Stewart put to words what I hoped to express through that movie quote.

Is It True? Is It Necessary? Is It Kind?

Oh! Stay, dear child, one moment stay,
Before a word you speak,
That can do harm in any way
To the poor, or to the weak;
And never say of any one
What you’d not have said of you,
Ere you ask yourself the question,
“Is the accusation true?”

And if ’tis true, for I suppose
You would not tell a lie;
Before the failings you expose
Of friend or enemy:
Yet even then be careful, very;
Pause and your words well weigh,
And ask if it be necessary,
What you’re about to say.

And should it necessary be,
At least you deem it so,
Yet speak not unadvisedly
Of friend or even foe,
Till in your secret soul you seek
For some excuse to find;
And ere the thoughtless word you speak,
Ask yourself, “Is it kind?”

When you have ask’d these questions three—
Ask’d them in all sincerity,
I think that you will find,
It is not hardship to obey
The command of our Blessed Lord,—
No ill of any man to say;
No, not a single word.

(The Rev. Mr. Stewart, 1848)

This poem applies to much more than a blog’s comment policy. It should be engraved on every blogger’s monitor screen so that we view everything we write through those words, which echo the words of Paul in Ephesians 4:29.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

It is a rule of necessity I hope to live by.


[This post is part two of a series on blogging well. You can read the first part in yesterday’s post How To Be A Christian Who Rocks Social Media.]


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10 Responses to The Writer’s Rule of Necessity

  1. janehinrichs says:

    I like that. What a good poem — what a good thought. I also read something today, a quote from someone (can’t remember who) which said, “We don’t have to agree on anything to be kind.”

  2. Rebecca says:

    Beautiful words :).

  3. Must be something about the week, the Jesus Creed just had an article about keeping comments civil too. They way he put it was that the out comments should be like we were talking to a friend at a cafe. Both the picture you give here Tim and his are good ways to look at internet commenting.

    These are good for the blogger, the commenter, and for our face to face interactions with people. Trying to get along and be kind to others isn’t only a difficulty online.

  4. Pastor Bob says:

    Interesting blend of thoughts. I can clearly remember my parents’ rule: “Say what you want, but say it nicely.” Early in life”The rule of courtesy.”
    Seems sad-funny-odd how this is missing in many of the younger group today.
    Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for
    +building others up according to their needs,+
    that it may benefit those who listen.
    The marked part, even if applied courteously seems to be called “disrespect.”
    Continue to pray, continue.

  5. Pingback: How To Be A Christian Who Rocks Social Media | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  6. Jeannie says:

    I’ve heard of those 3 criteria before but I’ve never read them in poem form. I think this is a great rule to live by — it would save a lot of hurt feelings and regrets.

  7. Kenny Pierce says:

    I do love that poem, and how you expanded upon its source. Your framing of it here in our own Christian context is beautifully done. Indeed, it should be my own mantra and screensaver. 🙂

    Thanks, Tim.

  8. Alice says:

    I was taught the THINK link:
    Is it True?
    Is it Helpful
    Is it Inspring?
    Is it Necessary?
    Is it Kind?

    All the first letters make a nice acronym. Can’t claim that it makes it into my speech tho…

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