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  • Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness – Rights outlined in the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
  • Stop, Look and Listen – A public road and level crossing safety slogan.
  • Stop, Drop and Roll – A fire safety slogan listing the steps to take if one’s clothing has caught fire.
  • Run, Hide, Fight – Survival strategy in an active shooter situation.
  • See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil – Three wise monkeys.
  • Snap, Crackle and Pop – Cartoon mascots of Rice Krispies.

Puzzled? In case you didn’t see any connection, here’s a clue. The “comedic rule of three”!

Many jokes feature three stereotyped individuals—such as an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman; or a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead—where the surprise or punch line of the joke comes from the third character.  

All of the above are memory devices or aids.

Pope Francis’ use of memory aids

Recently, I was looking for something Pope Francis said about how to care for people forced to flee for their llves. I finally remember that he stressed four verbs. Pope Francis often uses such devices. With that clue, I found it quickly.

I have long been aware of how effectively Pope Francis uses stories to challenge, enlighten or motivate his listeners. (There, I just used the rule of three myself!)  

Jesus did the same in the story of the so-called Good Samaritan. He asks us to reflect on the three people who passed by the badly injured traveler.

Curiosity aroused, I turned to Google Search for other instances of Pope Francis’ use of mnemonics. I quickly found so many that I want to follow up to find more.

My desire to follow them seems to illustrate the power of such mnemonic devices.

Here are some examples from Pope Francis…

  • Married couples should say “Please,” “Thank you,” and “I am sorry.”
  • Three words that indicate God’s style with us: nearness, compassion, tenderness.” 
  • Grandparents should reflect on the elderly Abraham. “Get up! Look! Hope!”
  • Our response to those forced to leave their homes is articulated by four verbs: “welcome, protect, promote and integrate.
  • A  Synod means walking on the same road, walking together. “Let us look at Jesus. First, he encounters the rich man on the road; he then listens to his questions, and finally he helps him discern what he must do to inherit eternal life. Encounter, listen and discern. I would like to reflect on these three verbs that characterize the Synod.”
  • Pope Francis pairs verbs linked together in a relationship of cause and effect”
    • Know in order to understand:
    • Be close in order to serve:
    • To be reconciled, we need to listen:
    • To grow, it is necessary to share:
    • Be involved in order to promote:
    • Cooperate in order to build.

Vincentian mnemonics

St. Vincent was no slouch at such devices.

Just think of his revolutionary advice in an age of long-winded sermons. Three simple steps. Get to the point! Keep it short with  “Nature, Motives and Means” or “What, Why and How”.

And how about phrases such as “leave God for God” or “Let us love God but with the sweat of our brow and the strength of our arms”!

He did not fall into the trap of long-winded mission statements nobody reads, much less remembers. He borrow Jesus’s “He sent me to bring Good News to the poor”!

Memory aids in your life?

  • Are there any such memory aids that have shaped your life?
  • What words ring in your head?
  • Can you picture words on your tombstone or obituary?

Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk

What do these slogans have in common?
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