Addicted to Excuses

What is the purpose of an excuse? Most often, it is used after someone has done something wrong. “I’m sorry, but…” precedes the reason explaining the mistake. Maybe lack of knowledge or some inability to control oneself lead the the mistake. Did a medical emergency strike you at an inopportune time and you had no choice but to act as you did?

Excuses can also be used to explain failure to act. “I’m sorry, but…” precedes the reason why you didn’t do the desired action. Maybe a missed party or a failure to provide some service. In these cases the excuse is used to explain the failure.

Other uses may exist, but both forms have a common goal: defer punishment. In the realization that a failure has occurred the actor who failed is asking to avoid punishment. An excuse is an explanation for a mistake. It both acknowledges that the error has occurred, and by its deployment, that a standard existed. It is the violation of the standard that establishes the fault (ie, the crashing of the car or drinking of the forbidden drink) and leads to the need for an excuse.

In some cases excuses are acceptable. “I didn’t know it was rude to wear red hats here on Sunday” seems like a valid excuse. Some unusual feature or rule of some place or group may be beyond the knowledge of a stranger.

Excuses fail more often than they succeed. “I’m sorry, I’m an addict” seems less an understandable explanation and more of a justification. If one uses an excuse, he or she is asking for forgiveness. “Don’t punish me because…” is the message beneath the spoken words. Excuses also acknowledge that a mistake has occurred, in essence saying, “I know what I did was wrong, but I don’t deserve punishment because…”

To grant validity to an excuse is to grant forgiveness. To deny one punishment on the basis of an excuse is to subvert the laws of justice. “You’ve broken the rules, but I’ll let you go.” Excuses aim to allow crimes and are a criminal’s most common tool of use. Honor them we may, but in doing so we risk depleting the very basis of our authority and suggesting that our rules aren’t really existent and what really matters is the charm from which your crimes can be explained.

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