Saturday, November 24, 2007

Excuse v. Explanation

A good friend and mentor once taught me that there was indeed a difference between an excuse and an explanation. The Oxford American Dictionary says:

ex-cuse—an attempt to lessen the blame by attaching a fault or offence; seek to defend or justify

ex-pla-na-tion—a statement or account that makes something clear; a reason or justification given for an action or belief

I can read those definitions and still not get it. I had to experience the difference myself, get caught in the act of trying to come up with an excuse when all I really needed to do was give in and point to my explanation.

I’m a control freak. I’ll admit that from time to time. I’d rather “attempt to lessen the blame” by attaching my own fault so that I can see that there is something different and better I can do the next time to make the outcome change. It’s easier for me. So naturally defending and justifying my actions fall easily into place when I hand out an excuse.

I had no control. But I wanted it desperately. I was just trying to be with my family during a time of unrest and upheaval, and I couldn’t manage to get my schoolwork done. Nothing was clear to me. I wanted to justify, show that I could do better. That’s when I was told, “Amy, there is a difference between an excuse and an explanation. What you have right now is an explanation.” I suppose the part I couldn’t grasp was the “reason or justification given” part. The reason was already there, the justification already given: I didn’t have to make it up.

Suddenly it was clearer. My family situation was no typical, “My dog ate my homework” excuse. It really was different. For all the effort in the world, sometimes circumstances hinder you from working out what you know you should—or what you think you should—be doing. And there is no amount of control you have over the situation apart from acknowledging and putting the next foot in front of the other.

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