Assume stupidity not malice, or...
Razor threads. I was reading Paul Graham's essay, "How to do what you love" and happened to see that he has a blog. I go to said blog. Top of his page, 19 April 2006 entry is also intriguing. I was keen on this part:
So if you want to discover things that have been overlooked till now, one really good place to look is in our blind spot: in our natural, naive belief that it's all about us. And expect to encounter ferocious opposition if you do.
Conversely, if you have to choose between two theories, prefer the one that doesn't center on you.
This principle isn't only for big ideas. It works in everyday life, too. For example, suppose you're saving a piece of cake in the fridge, and you come home one day to find your housemate has eaten it. Two possible theories:
a) Your housemate did it deliberately to upset you. He knew you were saving that piece of cake.
b) Your housemate was hungry.
I say pick b. No one knows who said "never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence," but it is a powerful idea. Its more general version is our answer to the Greeks:
Don't see purpose where there isn't.
That little tickle, "No one knows who said.." makes me want to know who did say it. This leads me to a MeatballWiki entry on Hanlon's Razor which proposes: Assume Stupidity Not Malice.
Nobody looks at themselves as malicious. If you think the root cause of a conflict is maliciousness, then you'll think it's someone else's maliciousness. If you think the root cause of a conflict is incompetence, then maybe you'll acknowledge that it could be your incompetence. That may still be difficult, but it's a sign of wisdom.
This in turn offered another link to, "Only say things that can be heard."
This advice sounds like saying "If people aren't going to listen anyway, then keep your mouth shut." Thus it seems to advocate social conformity over independent thought and the expression thereof (and sounds a bit like self-censorship), and so it seems evil to me.
It is important to recognize that if people don't believe they have a reason to listen, they may choose not to do so. You can expect certain kinds of reactions from people in certain frames of mind -- including, sometimes, the "ostrich" reaction -- and that is an inescapable truth.
The recognition of that, though, still doesn't relieve you of the obligation to say what needs to be said. Honesty is more important than people's feelings. If the truth (or your viewpoint of it, anyway) upsets people, or if they choose to ignore it, then so be it. (And if it's too complex for people to understand, then what they need is more information, not less. Writing is better than talking in such cases.)
Sometimes it's important to "go on record" with an objection that people won't listen to at the moment; you can always point at it later (like when you're on trial for helping to cause a disaster) and say that, well, you told them so, but they just wouldn't listen. -- EdwardKiser
This is about finding things that can be heard which is different from avoiding things that can't. It is far better to deliver a message that will avert the disaster than it is to deliver a message that will fail to avert the disaster but that will cover your butt. "Honesty" is too often used as an excuse to say what you feel like saying instead of finding more effective, albeit less satisfying, things to say. Consider that you will not live long enough to utter every possible truth. You must pick and choose among truths. "OnlySayThingsThatCanBeHeard" advises you to choose the truths that will do others the most good. -- PhilGoodwin
Backing up because I noted a Wikipedia link to Hanlon's Razor, I check it out. And sure enough there was a "see also" on Occam's Razor, the bloke whose picture I chose for this rambling post. And mind you, I freely admit that I only heard of meester Ockham because James Wood's character dramatically asks Jodie Foster's Dr. Arroway in "Contact" during her witch trial scene, "Do you know what Occam's Razor is?" to which she responds:
"Yes, it's the scientific principle that, all things being equal, the simplest answer is usually the right one."
And this concludes today's rant. I've been feeling stupid lately and wanting to learn to say only things that can be heard and finding out that this is hard for humans in general. I celebrate being in this mire today and hope to move on, wheeling forward on the only razor that's mine.