Let's Take A Closer Look

Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986

The notion that there is a “just right” amount is known as the Goldilocks Principle. We see it in action with the premium and budget choices that make regularly-priced products and services more appealing. Sellers create bare-bones and bells-and-whistles versions, knowing most shoppers will buy the “regular” version. Not too cheap, not too expensive.

The Power of Threes

Two of something is interesting, but three has a nice rhythm to it and a simple beginning, middle and end.

  • Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
  • Friends, Romans, Countrymen. 
  • Veni, vidi, vici.
  • The good, the bad and the ugly.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat.
Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil

The curio depicted here is a copy of a carving above the door to a 17th century Japan shrine. The monkeys’ poses were meant to convey the importance of avoiding evil in all forms. Some say the inspiration for the carving came from Confucius, who instructed followers to “Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety.” Only the first three are portrayed, leading revisionists to suggest there should be a fourth monkey with his hands covering his genitalia.

Propriety is not real estate

It’s how people are expected to conduct themselves in civilized societies that have established standards of good and proper behavior. Confucius was telling us to be virtuous and morally upright in the face of evil in every form, no matter how we come in contact with it.

When you try on clothes, you immediately know if they’re too big or too small

Goldilocks instantly rated chairs as too big or too small, beds as too soft or too hard and porridge samples as too hot or too cold. Finding the middle is easiest when you first establish the extremes. S.K. Ball, The Arkansas Philosopher, explained it to me as “You don’t know where the middle is until you’ve seen both ends.”

Temperature is exact while comfort level is relative 

When it’s a cloudy and breezy 50 degrees in January, tourists are in the swimming pools while South Floridians are wearing jackets and long pants. Tourists who just arrived from places with blizzards think 50 is springtime. South Floridians call it winter and bundle up. 

The brisker the activity, the less insulation you need because you are generating body heat. Most of us can be comfortably warm when the temperature is below freezing but we’re wearing thermals, hat, scarf and gloves and are actively moving about. Most of us can also be comfortably cool at 80 degrees if we’re wearing shorts and t-shirt, relaxing in the shade and sipping a cold one with our feet up while watching the waves lap at the beach.

The temperature is only part of the equation

You comfort level varies not only according to the temperature, but also with other weather conditions, what you’re wearing, where you are and what you’re doing. Like most things, there is much to take into account beyond the obvious.

If there’s anything to be learned here

It is the importance of not drawing hasty conclusions, because doing so is assuming you hit the “just right” on your first try. Also keep in mind that short-term trends will almost never last and ups are likely to be balanced by downs. You may know this principle is called regression to the mean.

How to find your comfort zone with any decision requiring online research:
  • Establish the ends first and then find the middle. 
  • Always use a variety of search terms and skip the first few that pay for your clicks. 
  • Go beyond the first page. 
  • Be sure to include some sites that don’t monetize your visit.
  • Make sure to check out some you think Confucius would use. 

I was going to use Superman’s well-known saying as an illustration of threes, but found that after 80 years, Superman no longer stands for Truth, Justice and the American Way. DC Comics executives said they changed Superman’s mission statement “to honor Superman’s incredible legacy of over 80 years building a better world.” Now Superman stands for “Truth, justice and a better tomorrow.” This sounds more like a sign outside a factory.

Want to look at old things in new ways, see the commonplace in more detail and hear complicated subject matter explained in simple terms?

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