05 September 2007

My Rule of Three

This is a rule I've been using for a long time, almost 20 years, back to the ending stages of my first marriage (maybe if I'd started using it earlier I'd still be in my first marriage). It's not Wiccan and it's certainly not sexual, but it seems vaguely authorish; it applies to interpersonal relationships. I was told when I first learned it that it originated with Native Americans. This seems to me likely to be apocryphal, but I've found it a wise and useful rule nonetheless.

It used to be that whenever I wanted someone to do something, I'd find myself doing one of two things1: asking once and, if I didn't see evidence of compliance, letting it go, or asking over and over till I got what I wanted. My personal style tends toward the former. I'm particularly annoyed by people who exhibit the latter style—commonly called nagging
—in their interactions with me.

You can probably figure out already what the Rule of Three says: that one should ask three times and no more. My experience is that after three times the person doesn't want to or can't hear what I'm asking, is unwilling to comply, or has some other issue that makes it useless to continue asking. Actually, continuing is almost always worse than useless. It starts becoming easier for me to get a resentment and the person of whom I'm making the request is likely to start perceiving me as being nagging.

So what do I do after three requests? If I'm to "practice these principles in all my affairs" I see only two choices2: (1) abandon hope of my request being fulfilled, without resentment or (2) find another way to solve my problem, meet my need or fulfill my desire.

Updated by Namenlosen Trinker on 6 Sep at 7:54

Pam's comment reminded me of one very important point I omitted in my original post: the three requests must be made on three separate but not too widely spaced occasions. Asking three times in less than a minute is outside the spirit of this rule. So is never being able to bring it up again. And it's for dealing with adults, not children (Thanks, Shadow!).

1 My 2nd sponsor, Ralph, was forever telling me that tended to see things in black and white. With me everything always had to be yes or no, good or bad, true or false. His advice to me was to pause long enough to think of at least one more alternative so I'd have at least three to choose among.

2 See what I mean? LOL!


Scott W said...

I have a thing about avoiding even numbers, so the three thing works for me. I have also heard that when a master says things three times you had better pay attention. Just sayin'.

doctor a said...

I read something recently about distinguishing between a request and a demand. It went something like this----when we are not ready to hear a "no" in response to our request, we are making a demand; and whenever we make demands, we will encounter some kind of resistance.

It's hard for me to accept someone saying "no" to my request instead of "yes"; but I find I'm much less likely to develop a resentment if I can remind myself the other person has a choice in the matter.

Shadow said...

well this rule certainly doesn't apply to kids, heee heee hee. then they would never do anything...

Pam said...

I still can't even ask once. I've abandoned the "can't you read my mind?" approach, but it's so difficult for me to ask anything of anybody...and believe me, I DO work on that. I admire people who can ask for what they need. But I think once is enough...three is just repeating the same thing, I'm sure they heard the first time.

kel said...

I think this is brilliant. Like you, Im sorry I didnt hear it sooner. So what happens if you ask 3 times, your request is not met, you do the task yourself, with only a tiny bit of resentment, and the requestee gets annoyed and says I would have done it???

Namenlosen Trinker said...

Not exactly, Kel. I might do it. Another alternative is that it just doesn't get done. Or I find someone else who can satisfy my want.

The idea of me doing it might not even make sense, e.g., "Would you please stop treating me like a child?" In a case like this I could stop hanging with the person or leave when they start doing it. One thing I try not to do is retaliate by doing something I think will equally annoy them.

I have never gotten the response, "Oh, I would have done that!" If I had, I'd suspect that I was not communicating what I wanted clearly enough, or that the person was more passive-aggressive than I had realized.

You're certainly right about one thing: no matter what, I try to minimize any resulting resentment, always remembering that my goal progress, not perfection.