Laws of Life: Murphy’s, Chisholm’s, and More

So-called laws of life aren’t necessarily agreed upon by all but sought by many.

These laws of life include the oft-quoted Murphy’s Law, along with its many and assorted relatives. According to, “The correct, original Murphy’s Law reads: If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, then someone will do it.

And the popularized shorter version goes like this: If anything can go wrong, it will.

One “law” new to me, quite relevant to common communication problems, comes from Rebecca Z. Shafir, The Zen of Listening:

Here’s an alarming fact: of approximately eight hundred thousand words in the English language, we use about eight hundred on a regular basis. Those eight hundred words have fourteen thousand meanings. By division there are about seventeen meanings per word. In other words, we have a one-in-seventeen chance of being understood as we intended. Perhaps you’ve heard of Chisholm’s Third Law—If you explain something so clearly that no one can misunderstand, someone will.

If this is Chisholm’s third, I deduced, there must be others. Turns out Professor Francis Chisholm‘s (1905-1965) Laws of Human Interaction, as reported on the internet, are as follows:

Chisholm’s First Law of Human Interaction:

If anything can go wrong, it will.

Corollary: If anything just can’t go wrong, it will anyway.

Chisholm’s Second Law of Human Interaction:

When things are going well, something will go wrong.

First Corollary: When things just can’t get any worse, they will.

Second Corollary: Anytime things appear to be going better, you have overlooked something.

Chisholm’s Third Law of Human Interaction:

Purposes as understood by the purposer will be misunderstood by others.

First Corollary: If you explain so clearly that nobody can misunderstand, somebody will.

Second Corollary: If you do something which you are sure will meet everybody’s approval, somebody won’t like it.

Third Corollary: Procedures devised to implement the purpose won’t quite work.

Goofing on the above types of laws has resulted in collections of newer, humorous creations. For example, If Murphy’s Law can go wrong, it will. Knowing Murphy’s Law won’t help either.

Then there’s Hill’s Comment on Murphy’s Law: 1. If we lose much by having things go wrong, take all possible care. 2. If we have nothing to lose by change, relax. 3. If we have everything to gain by change, relax. 4. If it doesn’t matter, it does not matter.

A sampling of other Laws of Life found online are listed below. Many, by the way, are relevant to today’s presidential campaigning and its effects.

Law of the Lie: No matter how often the lie is shown to be false, there
will still remain a percentage of people who believe it true.

Gioia’s Theory: The person with the least expertise has the most opinions.

Burr’s Law: You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the
people some of the time, and that’s sufficient.

Edelstein’s Advice: Don’t worry about what other people think of you —
they’re too busy worrying about what you think of them.

First Rule of Negative Anticipation: You will save yourself a lot of
needless worry if you don’t burn your bridges until you come to them.

Boling’s Postulate: If you’re feeling good, don’t worry. You’ll get over

Cardinal Conundrum: An optimist believes we live in the best of all
possible worlds. A pessimist fears this is true.

Ducharm’s Axiom: If one views his problem closely enough he will recognize
himself as a part of the problem.

Barth’s Distinction: There are two types of people: those who divide people
into two types, and those who don’t.

Courtois’s Rule: If people listened to themselves more often, they would
talk less.

Hurewitz’s Memory Principle: The chance of forgetting something is
directly proportional to….to…..

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