Monday, January 11, 2010


I've decided to visit upon the world a radical new concept in self-improvement:

The Top Three List.

There are many, many benefits to the Top Three List, especially as opposed to the Top Ten List, but I will reduce them to Three (which number, in all its grammatical forms, will always be capitalized) in the Spirit of Threeness:

Reason #1: Most Top Ten lists are way too long.

Four stooges would have been one too many.

Reason #2: I can't remember lists with more than Three things, anyway.

Reason #3: Three was good enough for the Trinity.

So let me start the "Year of Three," as it is already being called by breathless commentators, by explaining the Three Reasons.

Most Top Ten Lists Are Way Too Long.

If you have ever watched David Letterman, you will remember, perhaps, that during his Top Ten lists 7 out of 10 items on the list get a kind of polite golf laugh, like "ha ha (was I too loud there?)"

Most things need to be edited. Considerably. Especially self-help books. A personal favorite - "Children of the Self-Absorbed: A Grown-Ups Guide To Getting Over Narcissistic Parents." I'm not even sure what the title means.

Three French hens are perfect. Who knew what to do
with the turtle doves, anyway?

Think about it. How much anxiety did you have in middle school trying to fill up two pages with thoughts about some historical character? So why be anxious? I will just cut to the chase and target Three suggestions at a time.

I Can't Remember Lists With More Than Three Things, Anyway.

This is a well-known fact in EO's life. This is the reason Mrs. Optimist always stops herself and says "I should write a list, shouldn't I?"

And she is right.

When we were first married (decades ago) I was offended by this. "What, do you think I'm so stupid I can't remember four things?" I said. Turns out I do not have sufficient RAM to remember more than Three things on a list. Sometimes when I am tired or chemically enhanced my list remembering capacity dwindles to two or less.

By contrast, Mrs. Optimist's list-remembering capacity is approximately two-dozen.

That is correct.

She is an excellent nurse, and before that, an excellent waitress, and all along a fabulous mom, all of which put a premium on being able to remember long to-do lists of entirely disconnected things with uncontrolled ids screaming for your attention.

It still amazes me.

I have been at the supermarket on several occasions with a cell phone in my hand, calling Mrs. Optimist for the Third or fourth item on the list I should have taken with me. This would be humiliating to the ordinary person, but I convert humiliation into irritation. That is my coping mechanism.

Three Was Good Enough For The Trinity.

One of the things we don't really understand about God is his Trinitarian nature - God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. Mother Church has spent 2,000 years pondering this essential fact, and still calls it a "mystery." That does not mean we do not understand anything about it. We just don't know all about it.

Why do God and quantum mechanics involve superposition mysteries we can't understand?
(Picture link)

This characterizes the advice-giving function, generally. If you solicit advice, it means you don't understand something important, and need to understand it better. Otherwise you wouldn't go to the trouble of asking for, and especially receiving, advice.

Good advice comes in small doses of powerful stuff. It needs to be small, because we need to be able to remember it, no matter how crazy the situation gets. And if it is good advice, it is powerful. It motivates us to change, which is very difficult and takes lots of energy. Sometimes good advice changes an entire life around. Sometimes good advice results in eternal life.

Like these words of Jesus: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Good advice - short, easy to remember, life changing. It involves three components, by the way: our repentance, his kingdom, and its propinquity.

So I am sticking with Threeness when dispensing advice this year. During criticism, normal logorrhea will govern.


  1. I like very much that your very last post had more than Three reasons in it. So this must be a recent determination on your part. The Threeness.

    I know another person like this! "This would be humiliating to the ordinary person, but I convert humiliation into irritation. That is my coping mechanism." Is this a guy thing? Very well put!

  2. Very recent determination. But you must read the fine print - "during criticism, normal logorrhea will govern." Plus, I may decide later that 7 is a better number. Or 15. Depending on the subject. But so far, Threeness is the bomb.

    In answer to your question, I received the ability to transform humiliation into irritation from my father, bless his heart (as we say down in Hotville). Dad, this is not a shot: just fact.

  3. EO received this comment from a younger reader:

    If a list of Three is better because it’s easier to remember, isn’t that benefit of the Three defeated if I have to look up the definition of one of the Three things I’m supposed to remember? In that case, I have to remember not just the Three things, but the meaning of one of those Three things. Feels like Four to me, which, as you know, is simply too much. Case in point, I had to look up “propinquity.” So, now I have to remember not just “our repentance, his kingdom, and its propinquity,” but also what “propinquity” means. This extra effort is likely to lead me to forget one of the original Three. It’s a difficult conundrum, indeed.

    EO says he was highly conflicted when debating whether to use propinquity, but he just liked the way it sounded.

    Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa (3 mea culpas is the ancient formula, by the way).

  4. Monty Python had it right: Three shall be the number of the counting, and the number of the counting shall be Three. Four shalt thou not count, nor two, excepting that thou shalt then proceed to Three. Five is right out.

    Anyway, totally agree with you on the list - unless I have it written in my hand, I have to continuously call my wife for exactly what she wanted, at least three or four times.

  5. I am thunderstruck. The fact that Monty Python agrees with Threeness just confirms it is inherently right.