This post is part of Linda G Hill’s “Stream of Consciousness Saturday”
(Thanks to Leigh Michaels for giving us the prompt today: “Excuse”)
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. —Henry David Thoreau, “Walden”
I remember attending one of those “empowerment” lectures a number of years ago at a conference for women pilots, where a woman was talking about how sad she found it that many many women feel compelled to apologize or make excuses for themselves all the time. We are somewhat trained to be self-deprecating because we are “just girls.” But her point was that we should be proud of our abilities and accomplishments, and respond to compliments with a simple and sincere “thank you” rather than “thank you, but it’s just…” I’m guilty of this fairly often!
Sometimes it’s a matter of politeness, though…“Excuse me, sir, can I trouble you for directions to Mr. Smith’s office?”; “Excuse me, may I step around you here?” ; “Please excuse my ignorance– I’ve never done this before.”
We make excuses when we know that we’ve said or done something which has hurt someone else, because we don’t want them to think ill of us due to our faults or momentary thoughtlessness: “I’m sorry to have been abrupt with you…it’s just that I had a horrible headache and I was in a hurry to get home to bed.” ; “I’m sorry I forgot that you don’t like public speaking. It was insensitive of me to have volunteered you.” ; “Oh, I should never have said…I would never intentionally cause you pain.”
There is the apology made when we are hurt by someone, too. I think maybe by apologizing, we hope to alert that person to the fact that they hurt us and to somehow find that it changes their mind about doing it, and even to spur an apology on their part (I don’t think this really works): “I was just trying to comfort you. I’m sorry to hear that you think I meant otherwise. ” I’m sure most of us have said or thought something like this, and we’re not really sorry for having done whatever it was that made the person say something hurtful in return; we really did have good intentions. The “sorry” is a soft word, a word used to insist on our goodwill toward the individual in question, and to put the ball in their court, hoping to hear that they didn’t mean to be hurtful, which is often a futile effort. Sometimes all you can do is love someone, even if it means they go out of your life. And usually, if that is the case, it’s for the best.
And then there is the “Pre-excuse” : the need to make an excuse before we make an error. As a learner of a foreign language I do this all the time, just in case I accidentally say or write something that could be considered rude in another culture…“Veuillez excuser mes fautes de français.” I don’t want to make mistakes, but I know there’s a high probability of it happening!
That’s not always the case, however. The best example I remember of the “pre-excuse” was the time when I was at a parade, and there were tons of people. This woman with a HUGE stroller came barreling through the crowd, looked me in the eye, said “Sorry” and THEN proceeded to run over my bare toe with said stroller. She knew what she intended to do, and she obviously knew it was rude, but her “sorry” was intended to let me know that she wasn’t sorry at all, she was going to do it anyway! I wanted to tell her that her child was not a weapon, but she was long gone by the time I finished grimacing in pain and wiping the blood (!) off my toe with a kleenex.
The most common is the Post-excuse, though. Apologizing upon the realization that we have done something embarrassing, rude, or just wrong. It’s the “OOPS” excuse: “Excuse me, I really didn’t mean to knock your soda over. Let me clean it up for you.”; “Excuse my tardiness — I lost track of time.” ; “Sorry–I meant to say ‘on your left’ instead of ‘on your right’.”;
Most of the time we “excuse” ourselves , but there are times when we feel the need to make excuses for others as well. “Please excuse John — he’s not quite himself today.”; “Please excuse my brother’s lack of tact — he didn’t know you were friends with the victim.” ; “I know Sally, and I am sure that she didn’t take your lunchbox on purpose. She probably thought it was hers and she’ll bring it back tomorrow when she realizes what she’s done!”
Of course “excuse me” is not always sincere or polite. There is the snippy and sarcastic “Excuuuuse me!!” heard on many playgrounds around the country, uttered by bratty little kids who think that saying a “polite” word makes their insolence somehow “ok.” Like when a kid knows he’s interrupting a conversation between two adults but says, very loudly, “EXCUSE ME! I want a cookie, PLEASE!” He thinks that saying the “magic” words, even in a rude way, makes it okay to do something (interrupting) which is not okay. Oh wait, adults do that too. “You don’t like my suggestions? Well excuse me for wanting to make your cookies edible!”; “I can see you don’t want me here…Excuse me for living!”
Well, I guess… I’m sorry to have rambled on for so long about “sorry”…oh wait, maybe I’m not… 🙂 I don’t mean to go live in the woods like a hermit, but maybe by reflecting on my excuses, I can make less of them, and try to live a little more “deliberately,” as Thoreau writes. I know that I’ll never be able to quit making excuses in this lifetime, because I make so many mistakes!
Et vous, chers lecteurs ? When and why do you make excuses? In your opinion, is it a fruitful or a futile endeavor, making excuses?