Hanlon’s Razor

By: Butch Swank – butch@goodladandswank.com

I imagine you’ve heard of Occam’s Razor (not a typo, hang in there with me), but if not, here goes: “The simplest explanation is usually the best one.” I find this observation an incredibly helpful tool to help me navigate life. All day and every day, we are faced with choices and challenges. As society and technology become more complex, so will the choices and challenges we face. In deciding which direction to take, if two options are presented, then going with the simplest path is typically the best path. Using this mental tool is freeing because we’re so used to things being complicated that it seems we sometimes make things more difficult than needed.

In business (and as a Dad), I’ve learned repetition is necessary. If you want to share a new idea with someone, it seems you must present it multiple times for it to sink in. There are just too many things competing for everyone’s attention nowadays to expect your idea to be accepted and understood on the first try. The old saying “The more things change, the more they stay the same” is really no longer the case, and that’s also what makes modern life at times so confusing. We simply have no past historical events to use for guidance on the best path forward. Social media, 24-hour news, how connected we are across the world, and how people have access to you wherever your location are all things humans have never faced before. We are navigating new waters in how we, as a society and as individuals, manage these new tools and our subsequent new behaviors. So, to get any point across today, you must be persistent. Life might move faster now, but oddly, it takes longer to make a point.

I’m a huge fan of agency. Yes, you’re 100% right; our insurance agency is truly awesome, but I am talking about human agency here. By agency, I mean your ability to have a sense of control in your life and your own ability to influence the direction your life takes. By contrast, learned helplessness is the exact opposite of agency. Learned helplessness is defined as “a psychological state that occurs when someone believes they are unable to control or change a stressful situation. This can cause a person to stop trying to prevent bad things from happening in the future.”

The news, our politicians, social media, the movies, and current books all seem to paint this picture that we’re all just leaves floating down a river with no say in our own lives. They all seem to say: Just drift along, dear soul, and place all trust the river wherever it takes you. I wholeheartedly reject this line of thinking. I believe this message of helplessness is deliberate simply because it is so consistent across all media platforms. See, Occam’s Razor is helping me with my point, and if you pause for a moment, wouldn’t you agree? So, my first point is to recommend you repeat to yourself as often as necessary: “No matter what I’m hearing, I DO have agency and am in control of my life.” This can be scary because now that means you’re responsible for the things occurring in your life. You can’t blame it anymore on anything outside of your own two ears now. But that’s also the beautiful part: You ARE in control and can make things better. Of course, there are outside events we cannot control, but don’t for a minute let those make you think that, ultimately, you are not the one fully responsible for your life. It’s all on you. By embracing this and living that way for some time, your life can feel totally different and exciting versus the learned helplessness we’re being programmed to feel this very day.

On to Hanlon’s Razor. My Dad taught me this one, and I clearly remember laughing at myself when he said it. For context, I’m not sure of the exact situation, but we were in the car, and I was passionately complaining to him about a situation and how there must be an elaborate scheme being used against me to explain it all. Then, my Dad, who is far less chatty than I am, dropped Hanlon’s Razor on me: “Never attribute to malice that which is better explained by stupidity.” In short, it means stop fooling yourself. There’s no clever scheme against you, and whatever you’re facing is likely just some silliness which, if you have agency, you should be very able to navigate on your own. Again, we can manufacture all these ideas in our heads on why things are going the way they’re going, but all that accomplishes is that nothing really changes to be in your favor. Instead, if you approach life with agency, your perspective then becomes, “Ah, I’ve identified the challenge, and now I begin to work on the solution.”

We’ve all been effectively trained that someone else is in control. Stuff just happens, and that’s how it goes. Again, you are just a leaf floating down the river. No, I emphatically say no to that, and I suggest you consider doing the same. By using Occam’s Razor to find a solution to a challenge and Hanlon’s Razor to help you correctly identify the true underlying issue, you can make a tremendous difference in the direction your life goes. Life is hard. You now have two new tools to make it easier. Take your agency back. After all, who else but you can fix that?

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