Murphy’s Law says that everything goes wrong… and it really does, eventually. But our perspective on why bad things happen can dictate how we will feel the whole day.
Ever been in a situation where you think that the world is conspiring against you?
Those moments when we think that a negative act is a personal attack. For example, if your cousin borrowed money from you and doesn’t pay it on time, you may think that he did it on purpose to get back at you. Or when someone shows up late to a meeting and you may think that he doesn’t respect you.
These small acts may be insignificant to others but they eat up your thoughts. When stay unaddressed, the negativity piles up and dramatically affects us.
When you are caught in traffic and someone cuts you, how would you normally react? It annoys you, right? Maybe shift your thoughts and think about a positive interpretation of why the person in front of you might have done that. “Maybe he is rushing to the hospital because his wife is giving birth.” See? It somehow made you see the bigger picture. It’s not about you now.
But… reality check. Who are we kidding? The probability of that happening is close to zero. And there is nothing worse than lying to ourselves. I just can’t accept the “positive” interpretation of event, if it’s complete bs.
Instead of desperately trying to come up with a positive theory why you might have been treated unfairly, there is a better way.
Let me introduce to you the Hanlon’s Razor, a mental model that can be summarized as:
Never attribute to malice which can be adequately explained by neglect.
Maybe this entire time people were just sloppy, not evil.
This different outlook changes everything. It can help us build stronger relationships with ourselves, our partners, our friends, our family and colleagues. It makes us less judgmental and improves our rationality.
LessWrong expands on Hanlon’s Razor further:
Never assume malice when stupidity will suffice.
Never assume stupidity when ignorance will suffice.
Never assume ignorance when forgivable error will suffice.
Never assume error when information you hadn’t adequately accounted for will suffice.
Don’t be intellectually lazy jumping into conclusions. If you get emotionally affected by something, there are quite a few alternative interpretations of events that you should consider beforehand.
You Are Not All that Important
I hate to break it to you but THE WORLD DOESN’T REVOLVE AROUND YOU!
We, humans, are biologically wired to give more priority to fear and negative interpretations. It’s better to be on the safe side when your life is at stake. Thus, through generations of conditioning and evolution, we have become a people that worries too much, trying to read clues from the dangerous world, and assuming, never confirming. And we are pretty terrible at reading those clues.
But you know what? Pure malice almost never happens. 99.9% of people either wish you well, or doesn’t really care about you.
It’s unreasonable to think that the improbable happens to you as frequently as you think it does. 999 times out of a thousand, the person who cut you off in traffic didn’t see you, is a shit driver or is having a crappy day. We’ve all had those moments, so how can we really judge the person that harshly?
No one sits in traffic fishing you out of a thousand cars strategizing about cutting you off. Don’t be naive thinking people give that many shits about you. They have their own lives and their own worries to care about. They probably need to learn about Hanlon’s Razor too 😏.
Malice implies the relationship of an event to us. If we took YOU out of the equation, I can promise you would not care. People get cut off in traffic all the time. Do I care about it? Not really.
It’s one of the most liberating things you can do: stop worrying about what others think.
“You and everyone you know are going to be dead soon. And in the short amount of time between here and there, you have a limited amount of fucks to give. Very few, in fact. And if you go around giving a fuck about everything and everyone without conscious thought or choice—well, then you’re going to get fucked.”
- Mark Manson, The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck
And on the rare occasions when you try to take yourself out of the equation and still feel super connected to the issue - great! Now you are one of the very few humans in the world who’s found something you could dedicate your life to. Call it purpose, if you want.
Tuning Your Interpretation Mechanism
Every event we experience comes with its interpretation. That interpretation leads to an emotional charge.
Situation —> Interpretation —> Emotional Charge
What’s often broken is our interpretation mechanism.
Of course, you will never know the real intentions behind people’s actions. In fact, people rarely know the motivation behind their actions themselves. Assuming you know the truth will come biting you. It’s better to assume you are ignorant.
What we all need to do is tune our interpretation mechanism. It’s like the prism through which we see reality.
The trouble comes in making assumptions without much evidence. And the solution is just as simple: get more evidence. Just bring up your hesitations to the asshole that cut in line in front of you. You’ll soon learn that most of those assholes are actually pretty nice humans who got carried away and didn’t see you.
It takes courage to express how you really feel. But that’s what’s needed to tune your interpretation mechanism. You must get real data points from the world to prove your misjudgments wrong.
- People’s don’t know how you feel
- People don’t have the same information as you
- People may have the same view / belief as you
- People don’t have context as you
- We all make mistakes
Getting Cut by the Razor: When You Think Others Attribute Malice to You
My faulty interpretations mechanism has made me lose friends.
I used to check WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram a million times a day. Being ADHD (not diagnosed, but that’s what I’d imagine it feels like), the goal was to clean all my messages by responding to them. Especially those important work ones. As you can imagine, you can’t really clear out your inbox by responding to everyone. It’s impossible! The effect is quite the opposite. For every message you send, you get 1.5 back.
Staying focused became close to impossible. So I swung my pendulum the other way. I began to check my email once a week and responded to WhatsApp messages only if they were relevant for the context at hand. Some people did not get a response for months or not at all. If you don’t believe me, try sending me an email or texting me. ;)
The justification was simple. What’s more important - doing meaningful work or communicating? It’s a no-brainer.
It worked like magic. I gained focus and became twice as productive.
Soon enough, some friends called me out when I ignored their texts.
Instead of fully embracing my new habit and educating others about it, I thought about how being ignored may have made people I love feel. Which created guilt for allegedly emotionally hurting them. Guilt made it even harder to respond to those I actually wanted to be in close touch with. Then more time elapsed. And more unanswered messages. And more guilt.
I did not say happy birthday to one of my best friends and “disappeared” for a month.
I then explained the situation and, in reality, no one thought I didn’t respond because I didn’t care. It was all in my head! I only assumed it… turns out, even my best friends understood. All the stress I felt and guilt of not sending a birthday message became irrelevant. It was only me who thought that others attributed malice to me. I thought other people thought that I thought…. #inception
You can’t always jump to conclusions and assume the worst of everyone, although there is always a reason to. Most of the time it’s neglect, not malice.
Accept the fact that people are distracted, irrational and confused. No one give a fuck about you. So don’t give too many fucks either!
“Maturity is what happens when one learns to only give a fuck about what’s truly fuckworthy.”
― Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
Tune your interpretation mechanism and get more evidence if you believe you were treated unfairly.
And finally, don’t fall into the #inception trap. “I thought, she thought, I thought that …” It’s as stupid as it sounds.
Each second you nurture a negative thought is a second wasted.