Never Attribute To Malice…

People do a lot of things that feel mean. That frustrate us. That cause problems for us. That make the world a worse place. They vote for bad politicians. They say offensive things. They make messes. They screw stuff up.

Naturally, our first instinct is to get upset about this. To want to confront the perpetrators about it. To hold them fully accountable for the consequences of their behavior. But it’s worth stepping back and asking yourself first, are they really fully accountable?

Consider, for instance, Hanlon’s Razor–the idea that one should “never attribute to malice what can easily be attributed to stupidity.” Meaning that most of the bad things people do are not done out of evil…but simple incompetence. Not everyone is as well-educated as you, not everyone was raised to be responsible like you were, not everyone is as talented as you, and it is in this gap that you can find the explanations to most errors, most bad driving, most of the litter you see on the street, and most of the wrongs you feel have been done to you.

Remember, this is what Marcus was trying to say in the famous opening passage of Meditations. Yes, we will bump into obnoxious, self-centered, and rude people today. But it’s not because they’re bad or worth less than we are. It’s because they don’t yet know any better. Because they have been left behind and deprived. And if we can remember this, we won’t be so angered by it and it won’t ruin our day.

It’s going to take all our patience and preparation to hold onto this, but it will be worth it.

P.S. This was originally sent on June 25, 2019. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism. 

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