Hanlon’s Disposable Razor

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Worse than an assassin is the self-appointed gatekeeper of humor.

Humor, one of the most authentic human emotions, often treads in the mud.

My sense of humor lurches into the darkness and dwells there. I’ve uneasily enjoyed much of the social fire through the years, watching as people without any real intention of cruelty are publicly drawn and quartered for something they’ve said, or for an action that violated someone’s norms for humor. “Well, that isn’t funny!” Often, they are right. It wasn’t funny. But it wasn’t intended as an attack. It was just stupid or poorly stated. Most such humor harms another person’s sensibilities and those things they find to be sacred. As someone smart once said, “You can tell who is really in charge by what you can’t make fun of.”

Hanlon’s razor is a saying that reads: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

Here’s my take: Hanlon’s Disposable Razor: “If no actual harm was done, never insist that you know the mind of someone who said or did something in jest. Accept an apology, but watch for a relapse.”

Given freely, humor should always be first interpreted as an imperfect and fluid expression of a shared human emotion, rather than a malicious attack on one’s viewpoint. In the larger scheme of human interaction, humor seldom produces observable harm. Weirdly, it often produces anger in the mind of the beholder, an anger that is often disproportionately harsh in comparison to the expression of a badly-worded or executed attempt at humor.

Even though we know the above to be true, we often jab humorously at funerals, cancer, parents, patriotism, sex, and just about every other possible thing common to people. All of them will wound people in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

Age has taught me: sooner or later, we all face the guillotine of error.
Some people seem to stand guard adjacent to the guillotine and wait for perceived breaches of humor and intent.

Because people so often bring their own arguments to these thoughts, it’s important that you understand that my comments bend more toward passive humor, such as when one person sees a billboard written in humor and becomes angry or the refrain is, “I don’t find that humorous.” I’m not pointing my finger at interpersonal humor.

Distrust anyone who is righteous and quick to anger in the face of humor.

Absent evidence, it’s unwise to assume that the accused had ill intent.

The volume of the objection doesn’t always coincide with the magnitude of the offense.

Like all human interaction, mistakes are going to happen.

Given that mind-reading is still out of our reach, it’s wise to take a look at the context and the totality of whomever and whatever you’re about to rail against.

And remember that no matter who you are, you’ve said and done some vile nonsense to other people.

P.S. Once, when I was telling a version of this, someone said that I should call it the “…But Did You Die?” rule. Perspective.

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