The Most Important X...Y...Z...

In many fields one hears questions in the format, “What is the most important X…Y…Z…, etc.?” For instance, what is the most important factor accounting for artistic creativity? or competitive biological success? or a happy marriage? or military success? or scientific creativity? or successful child-rearing? or a sustainable economy? or world peace?

In our complicated, multi-factorial world, the correct answer to such a question is almost always in the format, “The most important consideration is: not to search for the most important consideration.”  Instead, there are normally many considerations, none of which can be ignored.

For instance, marital therapists have identified about 19 independent factors essential to a happy marriage: compatibility about sex, money, religion, politics, in-laws, child-rearing, styles of arguing, and 12 other factors. If a couple agrees about 18 of those factors but can’t resolve a disagreement just about sex (or just about money, or just religion, or…etc.), they are in deep trouble. Hence, if you hear a newly-married couple ask you in all seriousness, “What is the single most important requirement for a happy marriage?” you can bet that that marriage will end in divorce.