Malice Is Usually Not The Reason

“Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by neglect.” – Robert J. Hanlon

“Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

“Misunderstandings and neglect create more confusion in this world than trickery and malice. At any rate, the last two are certainly much less frequent.” – Goethe in The Sorrows of Young Werther

“Never attribute to malice or stupidity that which can be explained by moderately rational individuals following incentives in a complex system of interactions.” – Douglas W. Hubbard in Failure of Risk Management: Why it’s Broken and How to Fix It

In life, I’ve discovered that these statements are true: malice is usually not the explanation. More often than not, the reason is rooted in neglect, incompetence, lack of concern (caring) or simply poor decision making (flawed risk analysis).

That’s not to say malice is never at the root of the behavior. Sometimes it is. But usually not. Yet we often think it is. Indeed, we are quick to ascribe bad motives to others.

Armed with the knowledge that malice doesn’t play quite as big a role as we tend to think, we should be more patient and kind and less prone to react harshly. Yet I find that’s not always the case.

Frustration is often the reaction. Frustration that someone doesn’t seem to care, or cares only about him or herself. Frustration that someone assumed a role for which he or she isn’t qualified (incompetence). Frustration over a stupid decision.

It’s easy to think the other person is the problem. But with age I’ve come to realize the problem, if there is one, most often lies within. Indeed, the problem is rooted in my own expectations. My rigidity. Judgment. Ego.

The assumption of malice might make us feel good. Or provide an easy explanation. But more often than not, it’s nothing more than a misleading illusion.

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