Hanlon’s Razor

Sometimes what appears as an assault is just a careless verbal “toss” of a notion; unprocessed and totally ignorant of the consequences.  Bernice just “heard” something and she imagines that she just might be the first to hear earth-shattering news about the Pastor and his family.  Since her life is so shallow and empty she has nothing better to do than try to claim her fame through exclusive news (AKA, “gossip”).  She is in the know before anyone else (even though she heard it from someone else already), and she wants everyone to know her great networking ability.  Like a Pulitzer Prize seeking journalist she thinks she has something and cannot wait to make it known, for the good of the church [gag!].

Nothing in her news flash is true, but the harm is already done.  If Bernice is a sociopath she will rejoice in the damage done, but usually hurt feelings and a damaged career simply never had a chance to get into her head.  What she did is best explained as “Hanlon’s Razor,” which states,

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Angry feelings and thoughts of revenge will naturally overflow our mind, but when in reality we might realize that Bernice was relatively ignorant of the harm she caused.  She still needs to be confronted and the truth needs to be disclosed (expose the evil, Ephesians 5:11), but bear in mind that escalation of the offense will not be productive and will only threaten broader conflict and a call to Bernice’s friends to rally to her side.

“Hanlon’s Razor” might be the wisdom you need to de-escalate this situation.  When others see the foolishness involved, truth will find its own light.  Realizing that stupidity is the motivation, instead of well thought out schemes of assault, will aid your response.  It’s true, people who gossip must never be perceived as the local intellectuals.  Only the naïve and unsophisticated are drawn to cowardly gossip.

The wisdom of Hanlon’s Razor will spare pastors and other leaders much anxiety and draining of their reserves.  Some of those sleepless nights might be saved by simply realizing that Bernice and her clan are really not that smart to devise a full scale conspiracy.  Bernice was done with the mere utterance of her news.  Her thinking and strategy never even ventured to anything further.  Your anxiety is mostly your fault for allowing your thinking to get away from you.

As Cognitive Psychologists Gary Emery and Aaron T. Beck diligently preach, “any problem left unresolved will magnify.”  Record it like Moses wrote it!  Our mind will never allow a simple comment with a sideways glance to rest in peace.  Surely they meant to convey a warning or tipped knowledge concealed from me.  Given just one night of restless sleep and grand conspiracies are imagined with clandestine meetings in every home in the community, “they are all secretly plotting your demise.  That next board meeting will draw the attack you most fear.  Everything will be exposed and grossly exploited to your demise.”

Really?!  Would you really imagine that people spend that much of their time thinking about you?  So who is the narcissist now?  Would you really imagine that you are that popular in the minds of your community?

Oh, what a dreadful assault our enemy might wage against us.  Pure psychological warfare is such a deadly and devastating sort of battle strategy, like mustard gas permeating the trenches of our embattled minds.  The brash and imagined exaggerations rip apart our psyche and ravage our soul.  So unnecessary to be defeated when the battle has not even begun.  It’s all a ruse.  No real shots have been fired.  And the most agonizing discovery of all is that when we peruse the battlefield, the only “real” enemy that showed up was your own insecurities.

Paul was so insistent that we GUARD our minds.  We might say mental hygiene is every bit as important as any other care we take of ourselves.  As he boldly encourages, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

Our minds can get away from us quickly.  Fear nurtures our insecurities, which in turn triggers the “Fight or Flight” instincts.  Sometimes we need to stand our ground against injustice and toxic threats to our churches, but sometimes we need simply to discern when the threat is more in our own minds than in reality.  If the former, then pause and focus on God’s peace.  Let the imagined threat pass by without taking its toll on your emotional fortitude.

The Apostolic call is that we stand our ground.  Don’t give up so quickly and neither concede a broad ranging conspiracy, especially when nothing further is in the minds of the assumed “enemy.”  The word is good and wise, fully deserving our respect and guidance,

Ephesians 6:13, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

To stand means two things,

1) Do not retreat.  Battle strategy (especially primitive planning) depended on the line to hold.  An attacking army needed merely to scare and intimidate the enemy front line to try to cause a route, forcing retreat.  That’s why plenty of emphasis fell upon the drums and yelling (the Rebel Yell during the Civil War was a significant example of Psych Ops warfare).  They wanted to unnerve the enemy lines, makes them retreat and win the battle without too much loss of their soldiers.

What a sad estate that we ourselves should fulfill the words of Isaiah

“A thousand will flee at the threat of one;

at the threat of five you will all flee away,

till you are left

like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,

like a banner on a hill.”

Isaiah 30:17


2) Do not take the offensive, either.  Attacking will escalate any given situation.  Are you sure you want to intensify and magnify the chaos, harm and violence?  Perceived enemies who did not intend conflict, but were only acting in careless stupidity, will now have a reason to take things to the next level.  Now war has arrived when merely allowing the haphazard insults to fade away would have avoided it.

Human stupidity has never been in short supply.  On the contrary, generous doses have rampant in every age and every society.  As has been commented,

  “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the universe.”

Albert Einstein


“Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain.”

Friedrich Schiller

(1759 – 1805)


“Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped.”

Elbert Hubbard


However . . . never allow “Hanlon’s Razor” to become an excuse for naiveté.   The modified “Heinlein’s Razor would be in order,

“Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity … but don’t rule out malice.”

That noted down to earth philosopher Dr. Johnny Fever from WKRP in Cincinnati said it well,

    “When they’re out to get you, paranoia is just straight thinking”


Pay attention.  Gain the advice of trusted friends.  Use keen objectivity, separated from your hurt and insecure feelings to assess the real truth of a situation.  Hold your ground and be the stable, respected leader of your flock.  People need a reason to respect and follow your leadership.  You just might have had a wonderful gift arrive on your door step.  Don’t waste the chance to prove your superior character.  Remember, people are watching for mature responses.  When given a choice, people will always prefer the least contentious option.

Shoeless Joe Jackson explained it best in the popular baseball moviw, “Field of Dreams,”

Shoeless Joe Jackson: The first two were high and tight, so where do you think the next one’s gonna be?

Archie Graham: Well, either low and away, or in my ear.

Shoeless Joe Jackson: He’s not gonna wanna load the bases, so look low and away.

Archie Graham: Right.

Shoeless Joe Jackson: But watch out for in your ear.



*****     *****

You can’t depend on your judgment

when your imagination is out of focus.

Mark Twain




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