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Monday, July 7, 2008

What do you think of the defense?

What do you think of the defense?

Everyone makes excuses. Who hasn’t said, “Oh, it’s so hot. I just can’t go outside and wash the car,” or “he made me do it,” or “I had a terrible headache”. It seems as we all, at one time or another, a person feel the need to explain why something happened or didn’t happen, to assign blame. Because we all do it, making excuses may seem innocent enough. Certain excuses, sometimes called “little white lies”, perform a social function of smoothing over a potentially disagreeable situation. No one is truly deceived and perhaps no harm is done. Most excuses are not so innocent. They are intended to deceive. While it may seem we intend to deceive others, it is really ourselves that we are deceiving. Making excuses is a way of not taking responsibility for our actions. It is a way of assigning blame to something else, someone else, or even our mental or physical state so that we do not have to look at ourselves.

We can escape blame by pointing the finger at forces or circumstances outside ourselves. You may say, “I couldn’t possibly write a good essay. It was forty degrees in the room. There was no air conditioning. It was just too hot”. Since you have no control over the heat, you are exonerated. It’s not your fault. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say to the teacher, “I’m sorry I missed class today, my car ran out of gas on the freeway”. The person is not responsible. Right? There are forces outside our control that intervene and prevent us from doing something. These might be valid reasons for why something was or was not accomplished. They might not be excuses. The important thing is to look at the circumstances and determine our own attitude and reaction. Are we blaming a force outside for our own inability? If so, we are making an excuse.

We can blame other people. This type of excuse lets you of the hook because you are not responsible: someone else is. Typical examples include: “Well, it wasn’t my idea to cheat on the test. Bill suggested it and I just went along with him.”, “I got a bad grade in that course because the teacher didn’t make it interesting.”, “I didn’t get a raise because my boss is so stingy” and “I know my child is naughty but his mother spoils him so”. The person making the excuse is not taking his or her responsibility. Passing the buck is a special kind. This kind of excuse making often occurs in large companies and government bureaucracies. Let’s say a company loses a million dollars because of a bad investment. The president of the company blames the vice-president who advised him. The vice-president passes the buck to one of her analysts who had done the research. The blame gets passed from person to person and maybe to the computer, with no one over taking responsibility for the error. It is easier to look outside ourselves and assign blame than to look at ourselves and our true capabilities.

Excuses closest to home are those in which we blame our own mental or physical state, but at the same time do not accept responsibility for them. It is as if our body and mind are separate from us and can be blamed. Here you have the psychosomatic excuses: “I had such a headache. I couldn’t write my report”. At times we are truly sick. The problem is in determining when we use our physical state as a way of avoiding something we consider unpleasant. We blame our inaction or inability on our mental state. “I was so depressed about my family I didn’t study for the exam.” “I wasn’t in the mood to go to that party and see all those strangers.” “I was so excited I just didn’t think about the consequences.” Excuses allow us to avoid looking at ourselves and the problems that we face.

We all make excuses. They are not necessarily healthy for us. When we look at ourselves, at circumstances, or at our own physical and mental state, we do not have to look at ourselves and see something unpleasant.

We do not take responsibility for ourselves and our actions. Our physical and mental health depends on our ability to solve problems. If we are to solve the problems that confront us, we must look through our excuses and see ourselves.

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