Joseph Addison said: “Were all the Vexations of Life put together, we should find that a great Part of them proceed from those Calumnies and Reproaches which we spread abroad concerning one another…. It is a pretty Saying of Thales, Falshood is just as far distant from Truth, as the Ears are from the Eyes. By which he would insinuate, that a Wise Man should not easily give Credit to the Reports of Actions which he has never seen.”
(From The Spectator, 15 September 1714.)
My mother put this in the form of an imperative: If you don’t have something nice to say about someone, then don’t say anything at all. But in reducing it to a simple imperative that her children could remember, she had to tell us not to spread nasty rumors, although ideally, as Addison points out, it is best not to listen to them in the first place; she also had to leave out how staying clear of “Calumnies and Reproaches” is related to the search for truth.
And yet, one of the things we have learned from the recent progress in stopping sexual abuse of children is that sometimes you can be aware of the truth of something without having actually seen it. We should not easily give credit to the reports of actions which we have never seen; but we should also not blind ourselves to wrongdoings and evil doings that have been deliberately hidden from view.