Recently I learned of the principle of Hanlon’s Razor, the sum of which is simple - “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” Or my spin - don’t attribute to malice what is adequately explained by something else.
“Nature abhors a vacuum”, taught Aristotle. As such, we humans are prone to fill up space. For the purposes of this article, I am referring to the “space” around neutral pieces of information. As in nature, a vacuum will suck in nearby matter to fill its void; we too, are quick to fill up the space around facts with our own interpretation, our own stories.
For example let’s suppose that my friend Jai and I plan to meet up for coffee. I show up, order a drink and sit there alone, waiting. And waiting. He’s late and that is a fact. The space around the fact is “why”, why is he late. He’s late because he forgot; he’s late because he blew me off for some better, last minute offer; he double booked because he doesn’t respect my time; he’s late because he doesn’t really value our friendship.
Hanlon’s Razor asks us to consider causes other than malice. What if Jai had a flat tire? Or a sick kid? Or got caught in traffic? Those are all also possible causes for his tardiness. Hanlon’s Razor is a tool to help us create a bit of a pause. To get us to reflect for just a minute before we fully buy into our own story.
Now admittedly, my story could be right. Jai may not value our friendship or respect me. But what do I have to lose by taking just a little pause and considering other possibilities?
When I work with coaching clients on improving self-awareness, one area where we often focus is examining perspective by taking a pause. We focus on not only creating the pause, or in current terms, that mindful moment, but we go deeper and examine the patterns of spin we place on the stories we tell ourselves. Then we move into shifting unproductive patterns from negative toward neutral, toward openness, allowing us to be healthier, happier, and more productive.
As we move into the holiday season, and its accompanying stress, having tools, like Hanlon’s Razor, can be tremendously helpful. We can learn to create that pause, that mindful moment. We have the ability to question our own spin on the facts. We can catch ourselves before we react to one of the typical stories we tell ourselves; we can move into a space that allows more freedom of thought; we can choose to respond instead of react.