Mental Alchemy: Hanlon’s Razor

Hanlon’s razor is a philosophical razor that states you should never attribute to malice that which can be just as easily be explained by stupidity. This can be used in situations where you have incomplete information. Referencing my last article; road rage is a great example of this. Let’s say you’re driving along doing just your thing when out of nowhere someone cuts you off. Now, you don’t explicitly know the other driver’s intentions. And since you can’t be certain either way, you will make a mental leap. You’ll either assume that it was malicious or you’ll assume it was stupidity or unintentional. If you interpret it as being malicious, the natural next step is to take it personally, which can lead to retaliation. But even this would be a misinterpretation because even if it was intentional, it likely wasn’t personal. How could it be in the context of driving? The other driver doesn’t know you. So interpreting it as being malicious doesn’t buy us anything. Which leads us to the second option which is to chalk it up to stupidity. Now imagine the same situation; getting cut off, but then immediately give yourself a reason to feel sympathetic. Tell yourself they can’t help it, they’re just stupid. Or tell yourself they’re immature or don’t know any better. Or tell yourself maybe they’re rushing home because they shit their pants. What exactly you tell yourself doesn’t matter so much as making sure you avoid taking it personally or getting emotionally invested. Tell yourself something to defuse the situation and move on with your life. Hanlon’s razor can be a useful tool to help remind you that you don’t always have to assume the worst.

Stay positive and give people the benefit of the doubt. It might even end up benefiting you more than them.

3 comments

  1. I swear I just said this the other day when I got cut off, “Jeez that dude must really have to poop!”

  2. Realizing that most people are extremely self-absorbed (and probably don’t notice your existence, much less want to harm you!) is both terrifying and liberating.

    1. I couldn’t agree more! We’re all so wrapped up in ourselves, we forget about our 7 billion friends also running around thinking they’re the center of the universe too.

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