Have you ever said something like, “The reason I can’t _Ⓐ_ is because _Ⓑ_?“ If so, do you think a more honest statement would be one in which you replace “The reason” with “My excuse for why?”
As you can most likely tell from the title of this post, my focus in this post will be the use of reason and excuse in response to statements about why we do what we do.
I know that I have often not been correct when using the word reason. Instead of reason, I should have used “excuse.” Here’s a general example:
“The reason I was unable to complete _Ⓐ_ was I didn’t have time.”
I should have said: “My excuse for not being able to complete _Ⓐ_was that I didn’t have time.”
So, what is the difference between reason and excuse? First, the way in which I’m using “reason” in this post needs to be clarified. Reason, as in reasoning, can be used as a process for thinking. For this post, that is NOT the way I’m using it.
In this post, when I refer to reason, I want it to be considered as a basis or cause for a belief, action, fact, event, etc. For example, we might ask our leaders in government: “What is the reason for sending our troops to Iraq?” That question is asking for a reason that is the basis or cause of the action for putting our soldiers in harm’s way.
A subset of reasons are excuses. An excuse is a reason that is offered in extenuation of a fault or for release from an obligation, promise, etc. In other words, when using an excuse as a reason, I try to pass blame, lessen my responsibility, make light of, reduce the seriousness, etc. So is this what we should do?
Is using an excuse for a reason a good way of being “true to yourself” and “doing to others as you would have them do unto you?” In a way, yes! In a good way, NO! What I mean, is yes, you can be true to yourself, but you can’t be honestly true to yourself. And, really, do you want others to do to you in such a way that they are passing blame, lessening responsibility, making light of something you deemed “heavy” and/or reduce the seriousness of something that you feel is serious? I don’t think so!
Let’s consider a specific example of comparing “reason and excuse.”
Reason Statement: I didn’t complete the assignment because I chose to do something else.
Excuse Statement: I didn’t complete the assignment because my friend told me I didn’t have to do it.
Notice how the Excuse Statement attempts to, depending upon how you view it, either pass blame or lessen responsibility. Whereas, the Reason Statement is a direct statement of cause for not completing the assignment.
It is possible to dream up all kinds of examples similar to one I just gave. I have used the title of this post in my own thinking so much that it has become a natural responsive thought when I hear someone make a statement referring to assignment of cause for belief, action, fact, event, etc.
Perhaps, a more important aspect of “reason” versus “excuse” is when a person thinks about a reason/excuse. I think a reason is usually thought of much sooner than an excuse. If there is a deadline involved, the reason is likely thought of before the deadline and the excuse after the deadline. If a reason is thought of before the deadline, then there is a greater chance of taking action that will result in completion before the deadline. This is another case in which, “Be true to yourself!” plays an important role in one’s personal beliefs. Not being true to yourself, simply stated, encourages excuses. Excuses come from deadlines past, promises broken, and self-dishonesty. OUCH!
So, is it important to differentiate between reason and excuse? I think so, especially when the statement is made by me. You see, I’m the one who has to be most concerned with whether or not I’m responsible, reliable, dependable, truthful, etc. In order to be “true to myself” and “do unto others as I would have them do unto me,” it’s important that I give reasons that aren’t excuses. For my actions, a reason that’s not an excuse is all I need to give. If someone else wants to provide an excuse for me, well …
Perhaps, Elbert Hubbard, an early twentieth century artisan and philosopher, said it best with this short statement: “Don’t make excuses, make good!”,
I would love to read your reasons and/or excuses, but make them good. ☺