June 1, 2006

Hanlon's Razor

The common life is integral to many forms of religious life. It is certainly the foundation of almost all Franciscan life. So why bother to live closely with other people?

If you listen to the preachers of sunshine you might think it was just for mutual support and personal intimacy needs. These are part of what religious community is about, but I don't think they are the main thing.

If you live closely with other people you quickly realize how unreasonable and idiosyncratic they are. If you pay attention to their reactions to you, you will soon notice that they have drawn the same conclusion about you. Thus you can find in the common life an opportunity to give up your (unreasonable) expectation that others should be perfect in their work and interactions. And you can also realize how much pettiness and irrationality they have forgiven you.

Thus the common life can be a powerful school of humility.

How we interpret the words and actions of others becomes critical. Do we hold them to every little claim they make? Do we demand that everything about their lives be coherent? Here one hermeneutical rule that has helped me greatly is Hanlon's Razor. It says, "do not attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." Put somewhat more delicately, if a moral judgment is not necessary to explain what you observe about your sister or brother, why bother with it?


Don said...

Living in community is tough. Married life is not easy. Living alone is probably worst.
I'm reminded of the proverb, "As Iron Sharpens Iron, So One Man Sharpens Another. Without the other in our life our growth could be stunted. Even though there are times when living alone seems appealing. Peace.

Jeff said...

Hi Friar and Bruce,

Good observations, and I like these from Ron Rolheiser on community:

"Real conversion demands that its recipients be involved in both the muck and grace of actual church life...

It does not leave us the option to walk away when something happens we don't like..

Community takes away from us our false freedom to soar unencumbered, like the birds, believing we are loving, mature, committed, and not blocking out things we should be seeing.

Real churchgoing shatters this illusion, and we find ourselves constantly humbled as our immaturities and lack of sensitivity to the pain of others are reflected off eyes that are honest and unblinking.

We cannot bypass a flawed family on earth to try to relate to a non-flawed God in heaven."