“Never ASSUME, because when you ASSUME, you make an ASS of U and ME.” — Felix Unger
When bad things happen, there is often a rush to judgment.
Dark motives are attributed to what is merely indifference, neglect, ignorance or incompetence. Not everyone is out to get you. They are simply behaving in ways that negatively impact you.
Hanlon’s Razor sums it up quite nicely: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by neglect.”
“You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity.” [Robert A. Heinlein]
“Let us not attribute to malice and cruelty what may be referred to less criminal motives.” [Jane West]
“Misunderstandings and neglect create more confusion in this world than trickery and malice. At any rate, the last two are certainly much less frequent.” [Johann Wolfgang von Goethe]
Remember this principle when things go sideways. Your outlook on life will improve in the following ways:
Less judgmental of others
More resilient relationships
More empathy towards others
More rational decision-making in difficult times
People make mistakes. They often make poor decisions based on stress or ignorance. Misunderstandings are common. Plain old bad luck unleashes a domino effect of unfortunate events. Poorly structured incentives encourage irrational acts. Are you immune to any of these “motives?”
The next time someone says something offensive, snaps at you, runs into you, spills something on you or otherwise sets you off, avoid the urge to assign blame and bad intentions. Can you lead with empathy, knowledge, understanding and an open mind instead?
Remain vigilant for true malice while being more objective about intent. Consider Albert Einstein’s adjustment to Hanlon’s Razor:
“Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but don’t rule out malice.”
Hanlon‘s Razor is one of the most useful tools in the heuristics toolbox. My only quibble with this essay is your use of the word „even“ in the sentence „Even poorly structured incentives…“. In my experience „poorly structured incentives“ are the root cause of most of the malign, bad and destructive outcomes in our society and we are notoriously bad at setting well aligned ones. That would be worth an essay all of its own…Tennyson and Hanlon in one week - you‘re on a roll!