“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” – Robert J. Hanlon
When somebody behaves in ways we do not wish them to, the little voice in our head jumps to the conclusion that they have something against us. When a coworker is rude to us, we conclude that they hold something against us. When a contractor does a sloppy job, we assume they are trying to rip us off. When a person doesn’t repsond to our text or return our call immediately, we assume that they do not care about us.
Hanlon’s razor is the aphorism above that offers an alternate explanation to malice in those situations. Attributing malicious intent seems to be the default programming in the brain’s hardware. But in reality, there could be thousands of reasons for which people behave the way they do. Hanlon’s razor has us explore one of those several other alternatives – stupidity. It states that people are more often stupid than malicious.
While that maybe true, I don’t believe that to be satisfactory either. Somebody’s unpleasant actions can be explained by several reasons more likely than malice or stupidity. Incompetence is one of them. Busyness is another. And so is anxiety or stress. All of those conditions are just as likely to cause people to behave in less generous or courteous ways.
The incomplete list of of extensions to Hanlon’s razor are:
Do not attribute to malice, that which can be sufficiently explained by anxiety.
Do not attribute to malice, that which can be sufficiently explained by busyness.
Do not attribute to malice, that which can be sufficiently explained by incompetence.
Malicious intent often lies at the bottom of a long-checklist that our minds often overlook.
Inspiration: Tim Ferriss’ conversation with Alain De Botton