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🪒Never attribute to malice..
that which is adequately explained by stupidity | Wisdom Letter #164
Hey friend 👋
Today we will discuss a mental model called Hanlon’s Razor.
A razor here is a simple mental tool to shave off unnecessary information or noise from a decision.
Hanlon’s razor goes like this -
“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”
Before we dive deeper, let’s look at the find of the week -
🤩 Find of the week
This week’s find is the Why We Buy newsletter.
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🤔 How does it help us?
A mental razor is a tool or a rule of thumb we can use to make quick decisions.
We are able to make quick decisions because we “shave off” the most unlikely explanations of an event.
Prominent examples include Occam’s Razor and Hanlon’s Razor.
Hanlon’s Razor helps us easily explain many disturbing events in our life.
We understand that the event was not the result of malicious intent, rather naivete or stupidity on the actor’s part.
Of course, it doesn’t work always, but when it does it can cure a lot of anxiety.
True wisdom is in knowing when to apply Hanlon’s razor and when to ignore it.
It’s ironic that the razor was first brought to the world as a submission to a joke book, by Mr. Robert J. Hanlon back in the 18th century.
Example of Hanlon’s Razor
The simplest example of Hanlon’s Razor is when a colleague misses a critical meeting.
Do you think that it happened because they intended to miss the meeting and spoil the project timelines?
Or do you say to yourself, it’s probably an honest mistake, they are stuck somewhere and that’s why they couldn’t make it?
You the second response is more likely, and more healthy for your mental peace as well.
Yet, we often jump to the first response and seek elaborate explanations before we accept the second one.
This can be applied to personal relationships and online interactions as well.
A variation of Hanlon’s razor is –
“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence/naivete/ignorance”
This helps me deal with customer service agents over the phone.
I know they don’t mean bad, but they are just not equipped to handle my complaint.
And it also helps me deal with online debates with random strangers. I can attribute their negativity to their ignorance of a topic, or the general cold nature of the written medium.
For a deeper discussion on the topic check out this post on our blog -
In there we share more examples of how to apply Hanlon’s razor and also areas where it cannot be applied.
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Question to ask yourself -
Which negative events in your life have you attributed to malice from other people? Is there a chance that they could have been caused by stupidity or incompetence instead of malice?
Does that change your outlook towards those events?
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