current events

The Psychological & Historical Significance of Seven: its Not Just about the Sins!

All hail the number seven, a number of great historical and cross-cultural significance.  The number seven impacts you individually and has enormous consequence in your daily life.  Yet nobody except Sesame Street (See #7 Rhumba) has celebrated the number in song, unless you count the White Stripe’s Seven Nation Army, and although it’s an awesome song, I think that’s a bit of a reach.  Rappers often argue that it’s all about the “Benjamins”, when in reality it’s all about the sevens.  Thus begins my history lesson on the notorious number seven.

Let’s begin with “The Seven Deadly Sins” whose delineation seems to have served as the roadmap to life for most of humankind regardless of race, religion, or creed. I personally like to endorse gluttony as most who breakfasted with me can attest. The seven deadly sins are seen as the origin of all other sins, but truly where would we be without wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony. We would have no congress, McDonalds or Wall Street. Hmm, could there be something to this?

In mythology there are the seven sisters, who were the daughters of Atlas– you know the Titan that held up the world on his shoulders. You may recognize one of his daughters Electra–you know the one that kicks Ben Affleck’s butt in daredevil then ends up marrying him (well in real life not in the movie).  Also, its the name of particularly gnarly psychological complex, the flipside of the Oedipus complex for females.  Anyway, the more crucial piece of information here is that a set of liberal arts colleges founded between 1837 and 1889 in the United States that were historically women’s colleges were labeled as the Seven Sisters. Such labeling was meant to honor the fortitude, aptitude and general bad-assery of the women attending said colleges. As an alumna of Vassar College, one of the seven sisters, I can attest to that!


Of course, there are the seven natural wonders and the seven great wonders (not so natural) of the world. The lists have been compiled throughout history. The first list was actually the seven wonders of the ancient world, based in part on the fact that the Greeks believed the number seven represented perfection. Could they perhaps do a massive yard sale of their seven best antiquities to stave off national bankruptcy?

Then we have the seven colors of the rainbow that are visible to the human eye, for which there are many nice, sappy songs. I’m actually listening to a Tom and Jerry cartoon version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”   Speaking of mythology and sappiness there are the Seven Dwarfs. Dopey, Grumpy, Doc, Happy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Sleepy – the first fairy tale worker’s collective bargaining unit.  Did you know that management textbooks and business schools argue that it is best to have no more than seven people to supervise. Coincidence?  Speaking of business, apparently there are seven habits of highly effective people. The book by the late Stephen Covey, originally published in 1989, is still a force to be reckoned with. In 2011, time magazine listed it as one of the 25 most influential business management books. Even Clinton read it, but apparently didn’t help him effectively manage his interns.  If he hadn’t engaged in a cover-up, but instead had been proactive (habit #1) he could have had a win-win (habit #3). If you look at my past blog on the seven highly effective habits of conference goers you’ll note great synergy (pun intended) with Covey’s list. In particular, the cocktail drink can involve teamwork, synergy and attention to detail.  Possibly may involve interns as well.

For some reason I’m reminded of the movie Se7en, an American horror and neo noir film released in 1995. Besides being Kevin Spacey’s last good film (ok, American beauty was good too) it showed us Brad Pitt can act and that a head fits neatly in a box. The movie featured the seven deadly sins and a dwarf, There may have even been a rainbow.

Anyway, seven has great psychological meaning and impact as well. There is such a thing called Millers law that refers to how there are seven chunks of memory. If you want to memorize a long list, chunk them into seven batches. Furthermore, if you had a vivid dream you have about seven seconds to remember it once you wake up. Keep that pad and paper close by. Lastly, in every conversation, there are about seven minutes of good banter and then a lull, or your cue to move on.  Next time you find yourself at a cocktail party get the stopwatch going.  You may just find seven is your lucky number.

4 replies »

I welcome your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s