Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Thin Line Between Reason & Excuse

I hear them all day long from my children: excuses. From the proverbial "I forgot" to the mundane "just 'cause." The trashcans remain at the bottom of the driveway; the homework is unfinished; their stinky bodies continue to stink because they still haven't taken a shower. But sometimes, upon taking a breath and really thinking about it, I realize that their explanations aren't simple excuses but, in fact, logical reasons for their behavior or the lack there of. In looking at the various situations, I've come up with my own criteria for discerning what is an actual excuse and what is a valid reason.

An excuse is defined by a plea offered in order to get out of trouble. In my experience, many times an excuse is simply a flat out lie. Sometimes it isn't a lie but more of a very watered down reason--one that with a bit of effort wouldn't even be necessary to conjure up. You not only see this in childhood, but it is rampant in the adult world. Daily people vacillate between being upfront and honest with their actions and scrambling this way and that to cover their asses. A report is late on the bosses desk. The employee blames his secretary or the copier when in reality she simply didn't start the project in a timely manner. A college student asks for an extension on his term paper because he's been working nights to pay the rent. While it is true that he is working nights, his day time is full of opportunities for study. In stead he plays video games or chats with his long distance girl friend on the computer; he may even have some beers with his friends. Hell, it's 5 o'clock somewhere. I used to have a boyfriend who had ADHD. He was always late. He always lost his keys. (I know that technically you are not supposed to use the word "always" but in this case, it is the only appropriate word.) Now, this man always used his ADHD as an excuse: "You know me, I've got ADD!" In some cases I would err on the cause for reason, but in his case, it is basically an excuse for not being responsible for his condition: he didn't wear a watch, he didn't carry a planner or PDA, he didn't write things down so he could remember and he didn't hang his keys on the key hook when he entered the house. In excuses, the weak reason given might not necessarily be the "cause" of the action. But a reason is a pretty strong excuse!
Reasons differ from excuses as they are the actual cause for an action or event. "Cause" is the operative word, here. My son is snappy with me almost every day after school. After a few days of just disciplining him to no end, he finally gave me the reason for his grouchy mood: "I"m hungry." Of course! I get grouchy, too, when I don't eat---that whole low blood sugar thing. My new puppy randomly poops in the house. It's not her fault, if I claimed that, it would be a pretty weak excuse. She is only answering nature's call. In fact, the reason she does it is because I am not paying close enough attention to her. My sister-in-law's family doesn't come to our house. From an outside observer, one might think the excuse is that they don't like coming over, but the real reason is that my nephew has asthma and is allergic to cats--we have two very fluffy cats. The way I see it, the best "reason" for an action is usually a basic human need or emotion. I read a book once about why children misbehave. The main premise is that children always do the best they can with what they've got. They aren't born to be bad. No, humans are born wanting to do good, feel good and be good. This rings true for not just children but also for adults of all ages. We all want to be happy and do the right thing, but sometimes we have good reasons why we can't or bad excuses why we don't.

So the next time you are faced with what you think is an "excuse," take a moment to ascertain if there could be a good reason hidden in there. Perhaps a friend says or does something that upsets you? Before this time he has been a great friend but you've noticed that he has been on edge lately. Instead of fighting with him and holding a grudge, even maybe ruining the friendship, ask him how he is. Truly reach out to him with unconditional caring and compassion. You may find out that his finances are stretched or that a loved one passed away. At that moment, instead of piling more doom and gloom on his otherwise weakened spirit., you are given a gift of an opportunity to strengthen your friendship by helping support your friend and aiding in the healing process.


  1. Hmmm. I guess we need to live for each other rather than ourselves. pap

  2. It does help to think about other people's feelings before accusing them of anything.