in Creativity, Motivation, Philosophy, Psychology

A Close Shave With Hanlon’s Razor — What If We Agree To Understand?

“Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.”

— Robert J. Hanlon

This morning I got a bit annoyed by an email. And it’s my fault. I’ve got a tendency not to make entirely logical leaps of, well, logic.

It was a correspondence between a musician and a financial advisor. Basically, the advisor offered his “help” and give him more or less homework to do.

The email was supposed to be funny. Which it kind of was.

“Hey, you need my help! Go do this, this and this!”

“Ok? So, you’re helping me by telling me do all this boring shit that I’m not going to do? Thanks!”

I replied by saying how this kind of advising is misleading. It tends to give people a false sense of security that someone’s going to fix everything, when the honest truth is that no one’s coming to save you.

Robocop Unicorn Dragon - Skip HarveyMy hero!

Not that we’re going to do it all by ourselves, just the fact that we aren’t going to be handed everything. We’ve still got to do a lot of the work ourselves. I went on about how we’d all fare a lot better if we were learned that lesson a lot earlier in life.

I can see how getting on a soapbox about it wasn’t necessarily what they were hoping for.

A reply came back with the good ol’ “You completely missed the point…”

I carefully explained that I did understand the point, however I felt that there was a larger issue here other than having a laugh at the financial advisor for being a dumbass.

Red FormanRed Forman approves this message.

Although, explaining all the boring shit you’d have to do is a pretty smart move because then there’s always the chance of the person saying: “Hey, this is actually so boring I’d rather carve out my eyes with a dull spoon. Could you do it for me, Mr. Financial Advisor? I would reward you handsomely!”

This got me to thinking about Hanlon’s Razor which states: “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.”

Only in this case it would be better stated as: “Never ascribe to incompetence that which is adequately explained by good intentions.”

Here’s what happened in both cases.

The musician perceived the financial advisor’s “help” as being incompetence because the advisor didn’t state his intentions clearly. If he’d been direct he would’ve said: “Here’s what you need to do. You can either do it yourself or you could hire me or someone else to do it for you. That tip’s free, so I’m really the good guy here. You can trust me with your affairs.”

He chose to be indirect.

Trust Me I'm Lying - Ryan HolidayHow devious! Well, at least he’s honest. Or is he?

Had I been really smart I would’ve acknowledge his intention with the mail, which was that the whole thing was stupid, by saying something like: “Heheh, yeah… However, I think he might be hinting that you should hire him?”

And then sharing my ideas about how we all need to help ourselves first etc. That would’ve mitigated the risk of getting into a misunderstanding about a non-misunderstanding.

What could’ve happened is that it could’ve escalated into something where I feel that the musician is calling me stupid.

Was he? Nope.

When you look at the situation and separating the action from the person you get a clearer picture of what’s actually going on.

It would’ve been an easy conclusion to draw. Just like it was for him to conclude that the financial advisor was a dumbass.

When we ask ourselves the simple question “Why?”, we tend to get a different answer.

Also, if we assume that everyone is doing the best they can at the moment, then we’re also more likely to communicate in a way that gets us somewhere rather than resorting to ad-hominems.

M&M'sI said “ad-hominems”, not “add M&M’s”!

What I’m saying is that we can continue to communicate in a way where we simply agree to disagree and talk about each other. But what if the better way is to communicate is by agreeing to understand and talk with each other?

Have a kick-ass ₢eative day!

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