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Everything happens for a reason. There is a cause, a driving force, some underlying circumstance that brings all that happens to bear. Photons emitted by the sun provide the sunshine that bathes our planet; slamming on the breaks brings a care to a screeching halt; a crying baby moves her mother to action. Cause and effect, action and reaction, build it and they will come, call it what you will, there is a logical explanation for whatever happens.

Since we human beings are less than perfect there are a number of times we have to explain why something didn’t go as planned. A child has to explain to his mother how the cookie jar became empty just after she gave clear instructions that it was to remain full until after dinner. the boss has to explain why his employee’s shift was suddenly changed; the late passenger has to explain why he delayed the departure for hundreds of fellow flyers. In each case, there is a choice: tell the truth and accept responsibility, or make an excuse in an effort shirk all responsibility. An explanation is a simple telling of the truth without an agenda: I ate the cookies because they were so yummy looking; I forgot that you had already been assigned a specific shift; I got lost in the airport and was too embarrassed to ask for directions. In each case the cause is made clear: human error is acknowledged and accepted.

An excuse, on the other hand, is literally a denial of responsibility; it is a simple word, derived from two even simpler Latin words assembled together: “Ex”, meaning to deny or to leave out, and “causa”, or cause, meaning (as has already been suggested) to bring about. To ‘excuse’ means, literally speaking, to deny what has been caused by one’s actions. So, rather than simply admitting that the cookies were too tempting to resist, the child tries to explain away his error or deny it altogether; the boss blames the employee for not reminding him that he had already been assigned a specific shift; the passenger lets the ticket clerk know that she is being an officious little autocrat that should lighten up and play fast and loose with the departure time. The excuse, in effect, says it’s not my fault.

The odd excuse doesn’t hurt us too much. There are times when we are just too embarrassed to tell the truth, and so we make an excuse for our foolish behaviour. But sometimes a single excuse isn’t enough; like potato chips we need more than just one because they are often inadequate and unsatisfying. That’s why I think of them as great grappling hooks that grab onto us and drag us away from truth and honesty. I remember watching a movie once that showed a series of singers and comics performing on stage. When the audience didn’t like an act, a great big hook would appear from one side of the proscenium, reach around to grab the offending ‘talent’ and then yank them off stage. That’s how I picture the great grappling hook we call and excuse; it reaches around us to pull as away form the truth and responsibility for its denial. The occasional excuse is, well, excusable. But because one excuse often leads to another in a never ending spiral of denial, excuses become their own doctrine, their own unhealthy and unholy way of dealing with our mistakes. Being the sneaky things that they are, excuses can sneak up on us and become our only way of dealing with our shortcomings. Like a crutch, they prop us up when we are too weak or too unwilling to face the truth. Like ear plugs, the deafen us to anything but our own reasoning; like blinders, they keep us from seeing the responsibility we should be assuming for ourselves.

Crutches can be helpful when we are healing or when our wounds limit us; but crutches can also hinder us when we begin to rely on them to much; if we don’t take part in therapy or are too frightened to take a few steps because it might hurt or we might fall, crutches can give us a false sense of security and actually deny us the opportunity to heal. Earplugs are good when we need to rest in a house full of busy folks or to protect our hearing in a noise environment. But they can also prevent us from hearing our own denials or the warnings or disappointment from friends. Dark glasses help us make it through a sunny day, allowing us to to see while protecting our eyes, but they prevent us from seeing anything but the brightest objects. Excuses, work the same way: they can hobble us, deafen us and prevent us from looking to the greater truth of our imperfection and foolishness. What’s more, they keep us from ever admitting to our mistakes, and to the fact that we are the ones responsible for the pain we have caused or for the injustice we have brought about.

“Excuses”, the song, is a listing of 20

of my personal favourites...


Excuses: you’ve seen the video, you’ve heard the song, you’ve wondered about the lyrics. This is where you get a chance to delve into the meaning and theology of the song. Simply click on a lyric to learn where it came from and what it means to me.

Excuses: the song; the video; the life lessons

I’d be a braver man but first I need a little drink.

I’d be a whole lot smarter if I didn’t have to think.

I’d reach out to my neighbour if she weren’t so near the brink.

And I’d love to clean the world up but I just can’t stand the stink.

I’d give to charity if someone else would foot the bill,

I’d eat a balanced meal if I could have it in a pill,

I’d be a stronger person if I only had the will,

And I’d take time to relax but I just can’t stand standing still.

  1. All of these excuses are like one great grappling hook,

  2. They’re like a sacred doctrine culled from some unholy book.

  3. They hobble me and deafen me, they just won’t let me look,

  4. To see the truth they’ve hidden in some distant, lonely nook.

I’d soar up like an eagle but I don’t have any wings,

I’d read the Bible daily but there’s no time for such things,

I’d like to heal the wounded if it weren’t for my own slings,

And I’d spend more time with people if they weren’t such dingalings.

I’d take the narrow path if I could find a broader way,

I’d tell the truth more often but I don’t know what to say,

I’d like to leave the darkness but I’m frightened by the day,

And I’d like to stand up tall but its much easier to sway.

  1. All of these excuses are like one great grappling hook,

  2. They’re like a sacred doctrine culled from some unholy book.

  3. They hobble me and deafen me, they just won’t let me look,

  4. To see the truth they’ve hidden in some distant, lonely nook.

I‘d be a lot more loving if I didn’t have to care,

I’d like to praise the Lord but it’s a lot more fun to swear,

I’d like to tell my story but I do not like to share,

And I’d like to be more cuddly but I ain’t no Teddy bear!

  1. All of these excuses are like one great grappling hook,

  2. They’re like a sacred doctrine culled from some unholy book.

  3. They hobble me and deafen me, they just won’t let me look,

  4. To see the truth they’ve hidden in some distant, lonely nook.

  5. All of these excuses are the choicest of the crop,

  6. But now I realize all these excuses gotta stop!

What’s My Excuse?

Excuses are the way we explain what happened when something goes wrong.

In the world of physics cause and effect are cut and dried. The universe and everything in it behaves according to a set of proscribed, interrelated laws. They are absolute and ineffable. There is no avoiding them, no shortcut by which they can be skirted, no way to change the outcome of a given set of physical circumstances. When a photon bounces off something that something becomes visible to the human eye. Photons cause light; there is no way around that law.

Human beings follow the laws of physics. When we trip over an unseen hazard, sing a familiar song or squint our eyes at the bright morning sun, we are responding to the the same ineffable laws by which the entire universe must operate. Cause and effect are predetermined. Gravity cannot be defied; vibrating vocal chords create a sound; retinas can only absorb a limited amount of light. Human beings, however, are not purely physical beings reacting to gravity or light. We are also self-aware, thinking beings. We control our actions, at times unwittingly defying the physical laws we must obey with comical, if not painful, results.

For humans, cause and effect matter; not just in terms of the laws of physics, but in a deeper, more personal sense. We are motivated to do things; some of those reasons are good; some indifferent; some not so good. Our motivations is the result of our needs, our wants, gut reactions and carefully plotted schemes. We are accountable for both cause and effect. What we do has an impact on ourselves, our neighbours, our world. Yet there is a gap between our reality and what is perceived by others. What might make sense to us might be confusing to another. What we perceive as being a good idea might not be seen so by the person sitting next to us. Sure

Rene Descartes wrote: “Cogito, ergo sum;” “I think, therefore I am.” It is the ultimate in simple causality. Because I think that I exist, I exist. I am conscious of myself and that consciousness gives rise to myself. It is a brief, succinct insight into ourselves, yet it is one with profound ramifications. I am both cause and effect. Because I think, I am. Because I am, I think. Cause brings about effect in a circular argument that revolves solely around me. There is no you in this discussion. There is no broader world. I think; I am. I am; I think. It is a self contained reality and explains and contains only itself.

Yet there is more to the notion that because I think, I am. Add to it a word or two. Narrow the definition. I think I am good, therefore I am good. I think I am bad, therefore I am bad. I think I am tall, therefore I am tall. It is both clarity and delusion. Because we think a thing it exists, even if only in our minds. It think whatever I wish to think is true, therefore everything I think is real. Or, perhaps in the greatest stretch: I think nothing is impossible, therefore all things are possible.

The point can be stretched to ludicrous extremes, but at its core there is a truth beyond its obvious meaning. Yes, I think, therefore I am. That is the foundation. But buried within that foundation is this truth: I am the chief author of myself. What I think, how I think defines not only who and what I am, but the world around me, the place in which I live, the people I encounter. What I think the world is, it is; what I think my life to be, it is, what I think my friends are, they are. In short, what I believe is true, is the truth.

This is not cause and effect. I think, therefore I am does not create us; if I think a thing it does not suddenly pop into existence, other than being real in my mind. I may think I can fly; I may have the dreams to prove it, but the reality of my thoughts is that they are my thoughts; they impact my reality; they define my reality; they are my reality, but my thoughts do not alter your reality, or overrule the laws of physics.

As I think myself into existence and seek to understand who and what I am, I must begin to account for the reality that is beyond my own train of thought. I must explain my actions not only to myself, but also to the world around me, to the people that bear the consequences of my actions. Cause and effect matters because I am no longer both cause and effect; I think, therefore I am; you think, therefore you am; no matter what I think or what you think, we somehow are, and our mutual being is non-exclusive and not without its effect. What I cause affects you; what you cause affects me. I cause words on a page; they cause you to read into my thoughts; because you think, I am; because I think, you are. And there is more.

Cause and effect must be understood, explained, brought to light. The dentist tells his patient that the procedure might hurt a little bit. He explains what will happen, the sights and sounds, the sensations that the patient will experience as the tooth is replaced. It is cold, clinical, exacting; cause and effect are simple and straightforward; it is what the dentist must do and how the body reacts to those actions in order of health to be restored. This is what I will cause to happen, he explains, and this is how it will affect you. Specific actions have specific consequences. We can account for those; we can explain them, predict them, react to them. What I think will impact you in a certain way; I can tell you what to expect; I can warn you in advance. I can lessen the impact of a negative action or highlight the thrill of something that will satisfy.

There are times when cause and effect are not so clearly stated or obvious. I think, but do not take you into account for my actions, and so I hurt you. Sometimes motivation is lacking. I think but do not act, therefore nothing happens. Sometimes I think I can’t and therefore I don’t. How do explain the cause and lack of effect? How can I justify the unintended consequences of a truth evident only to me. How can I understand what went agley in the best laid scheme? How can I cover-up the discrepancy between what I said I would do and what I really did do?

Enter the ‘Excuse’ and all that it implies. It is a simple word, derived from two even simpler Latin words assembled together: Ex, meaning to deny or to leave out, and causa, or cause, meaning (as has already been suggested) to bring about. To ‘excuse’ means, literally speaking, to deny what has been caused by one’s actions. More broadly speaking, and excuse is something far greater.

An excuse can be an invitation or a wall. It can explain the truth of an intended cause that brought about unintended hurt, or it can whitewash it, masking it it behind an altered reality that denies any personal involvement in the wounding. Excuses can invite a healthy discourse on mutual needs or cause us to probe deeper into the discrepancy between what we think we are doing and we are really causing to happen. Spoken without due concern for the feelings of another, an excuse can create a barrier that might forever separate to people.

The Canadian’s quickly offered “Excuse me,” the phrase that has become the butt of our own jokes, is an acceptance of responsibility that seeks forgiveness. It is blithely said that we are the only people who, when bumped into by another person, will seek their forgiveness first, and that’s not a bad thing. This is the gall-less action of one that genuinely desires that no harm be done by them. It is the “How are you doing?” asked with an earnest desire to know the truth, the “call me if you need me” that is ready to respond if needed, the heart believes that doing unto others means only doing nice things. In short, the Canadian “Excuse Me!” is really a reflection of our national identity as nice people.

If an excuse can speak to the honest desire to cause no harm and point to the earnest desire to be a good person, it can also achieve other, more hurtful ends. It can, as suggested, create barriers between people. To deny how what you have caused has hurt another person with a lame, half hearted excuse only causes pain and resentment, feelings that are not only experienced by the one that is hurt but, quite possibly, by the one that is making the excuse.

When we make an excuse to gloss over our actions we do two things: first we indicate to others that the problem is not with us, or that somehow we are less to blame than they might think. Yes, we are the cause, but only sort of, and not really, and the effect isn’t quite as big as you think it is. The second, and more hurtful result of our excuses is that they blind us to the truth that should be evident. I think I have an excuse therefore I am less culpable; I think I can explain what I have caused in an alternate, less less accusatory manner, therefore I am not as guilty; I think what happened wasn’t really my fault, even though I caused it, therefore I am not at all responsible for what happened. I think I am not accountable, therefore I am not.

I’d be a braver man but first I need a little drink. It is a denial, a hiding place, a reasoning away of why I remain a coward.

I’d eat a balanced meal if I could have it in a pill. I see a PollyAnna world where everything is simple and solutions are available. The trouble is that  they are just beyond my grasp; I know they are there but I can’t reach them. If I cannot reach the answers I need, I am not to blame, therefore I will not take responsibility if nothing changes in my life.

I’d like to praise the Lord but it’s much more fun to swear. One thing is easy, but solemn; the other is fun and lighthearted. That’s the excuse. The reality I will seek pleasure over substance.

This is how excuses hurt us; they undermine our ability to think straight; they deny reality and accept an alternate, less embarrassing or painful version of events; they are the crutch that explains why we limp through life rather than jumping for joy; they are the altar at which we sacrifice the truths that should be self-evident so that we might better buy into our own self-deception. They are the reason to deny cause and effect, the hatchet that tears apart the connection between the two, the veil that hides us from complicity in having caused whatever painful effect invites us to think them. I make an excuse, therefore I am innocent.

Mark Twain wrote: “Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.” I would paraphrase his thought by saying: “Man is the only animal that makes excuses. Or needs to.” From the first time a child answers her parents by pointing to her big brother and stating innocently “He dared me to!” to the moment we say of a loved one “If only I had spent more time with them…” our lives are fraught with excuses. The dog ate my homework. I thought you filled the gas. I didn’t think you’d notice. A few, like the Canadian “Excuse Me!” are heartfelt and sincere and readily offered. Others are as ephemeral as the breath with which they are spoken. Some are signs of personal issues bigger than we care to acknowledge.

It’s this last category that I explored in my song “Excuses.” Each line of each verse points to a way in which we deny reality, pass blame to others, or excuse ourselves from our folly. They are mine and they are yours; if I haven’t used them, I have certainly had them in the back of my mind ready to fire off. While they’re presented in an off-hand manner there are serious truths behind them. We can laugh at them; it allows us to let down our guard a little bit and see ourselves as wonderfully imperfect. They are not a judgment of personal quality or worth nor is the song a scathing commentary on how bad the world is or a tear-filled, humiliating confession of what a lousy job I’ve done navigating it’s course thus far. The various and sundry excuses I’ve shared are simply a lighthearted reflection on some of the ways we both consciously and unconsciously deal with the world, how we understand what we have caused and affected, what it is we think and therefore we are. I would write more but I’m running out of memory on my laptop, so I better get to it. Nudge nudge, wink wink.

Going Deeper