Cutting Ourselves with William’s Razor

We have William of Ockham to thank for the problem solving maxim Occam’s razor. According to William the simplest explanation is often the best. I like the idea. We all do. We crave simplicity. Complexity is hard. And that’s how we cut ourselves by oversimplifying complex situations.

Occam’s razor that gives us tacit permission to ignore complexity and jump to a conclusion has the potential to hurt as much as help. I was reading the New York Times Daily newsletter the other morning, an almost regular habit, and the lead story got me thinking about William’s razor. The topic was inflation. The author Neil Irwin tries valiantly to explain to us his audience why stuff costs more now. The answer, we’ll it’s complicated. Occam’s razor? It need not apply. 

My work with relationships is similar. When a bomb goes off in our lives we instinctively want simple solutions. Who’s to blame? Can my marriage be saved? Why did he cheat? Should I stay or go? We want the simplest possible explanation. That instinct indeed that overwhelming desire for simple answers to a complex question hurts more than it helps. In crisis we tend to cut ourselves with William’s razor.

In complex systems like federal monetary policy, the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, and our relationships there are many variables that come together to cause our current circumstance. It’s frustrating because we can’t simply blame our husbands or our President and hope that none alone will solve our problems. Nope. It doesn’t work. Simplicity is not effective in complex situations. So what’s the alternative?

Complex situations have many variables that all coalesce within a given context. Change just one of your variables, change your context and you’ll have a new outcome. Change just one thing and it will be different. Change many things and things will be very different. We can’t control the outcome. The difficulty of that is a story for a different day. We can’t control the outcome of our relationships but we can absolutely change them. So if you know things as they are don’t work for you. Let’s do something different and see what happens.