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Chaffin’s Razor

I have this theory, something I’ve been working on for many years. One of our listeners (D. Scott Frey) on The Apple Context Machine came up with the name “Chaffin’s Razor,” and I quite fancy that name, so let’s go with it. In any event, here’s my thought:

When someone does or says something that appears irrational, there is almost always a piece of missing information that would either explain the behavior or cause the observed to behave or speak differently.

That’s the shortish version, but the long version starts with the fact that very few people are crazy. Sure, some people are straight up, legit insane, but not many. Yet all the time our friends, acquaintances, enemies, and strangers do things that appear crazy.

“WTF? Seriously? He did that?”

“Why on earth would she say that?”

We’re confronted with unexplainable behavior all the time. I mean all the time. But a long time ago I noticed how often I’d learn something that made those action or words make sense. Alternately, there were many times where I would see the crazy-acting person learn something that made them feel differently about what they had done or said.

You know what I’m talking about: those “Oooooohhhhhhhhh!” moments when suddenly everything falls into place. It’s either you or the crazy person who says it, but either way it puts the original behavior in a new context, one devoid of the crazies.

It’s always some piece of missing information, and when I realized that was the case, I started obsessing over finding it. That included spending a lot of time and effort putting myself in the shoes of other people to see things through their eyes. That’s often the fastest path to understanding.

To be fair, it doesn’t always work. Sometimes there’s just no way to find the missing information. Other times, it turns out that a mere difference of opinion is at work, and while you disagree with the action or words, they’re not irrational.

And then every once in a blue moon you discover that someone you thought you knew turns out to be batshit insane.

Update: I think I left out the most important part of this bit of philosophizing, and that is what to do with it. When you see something that looks crazy or irrational, stop. Take a moment and realize either you or the other person is missing something. Don’t just dismiss it, get angry, or otherwise react in a negative way.Β When we take the time to understand one another, enormous amounts of friction, heartache, anger, and all manner of negativity can be avoided. Thus endeth the sermon.

13 Responses

  1. Let’s apply Chaffin’s Razor here. Since I clearly love Bryan’s art, but he thinks I’m lying or delusional, there’s a bit of information that’ll (hopefully) make my genuine appreciation for his drawings make sense. Bryan draws with a pureness and innocence that’s missing from so many accomplished or practiced artists. It’s refreshing, and since I often get to hear Bryan laughing when he first shows me one of his drawings, they’re wonderfully fun, too. The Mason Truman drawing is a perfect example. Plus, he has a hat. A. Hat!

  2. I love the theory, and I think the world would be vastly improved by all of us using a *lot* more effort to find missing knowledge (or at least realize the impact it has) and to not the least try to understand other viewpoints.

    I think the article could be improved by several examples of how it works. Preferably both examples from the business world and from smaller spheres.

  3. Given the substantiality of most Rock lyrics (Hotel California notwithstanding), I think it’s a good thing that most soap boxes are not a very heavy building material.

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