Do you know the subtle difference between a 'reason' and an 'excuse'?

This is something that I think confuses a lot of people.  Have you ever been frustrated, feeling accused of  ‘making up excuses‘ when you feel like you are just explaining WHY you did or didn’t make some choice…

Parents regularly tell their children, “I don’t want to hear your excuses!”

Bosses will hand out tasks with the understanding that they need to be done and “no excuses” will be accepted.

For whatever reason, this popped back into my head recently so I thought I’d do a little more pondering on the subject.  I believe that understanding the difference can be a key to overcoming self-sabotage.  So let’s take a look at what is a…

reasonvsexcuseHere are 2 definitions that get to the crux of the matter:

Reason, – noun a statement presented in justification or explanation of a belief or action, the basis or cause for a belief or action

Excuse, – noun a pretext or subterfuge, an explanation offered to justify or obtain forgiveness

I think the subtle difference is that a reason is more a statement of fact where an excuse often plays to emotion in the hopes of being excused.  There is always a reason but sometimes there is no excuse.  Confused?  Let’s look at a few examples.

We’ll start with the age old homework conundrum – an excuse would be:  “My dog ate my homework”.  But really!  How many dogs actually eat homework?

Perhaps a teacher would be more understanding of hearing the occasional, honest reason homework is late – “I was doing so well at “Call of Duty” last night that I lost track of time and didn’t do it.”

Here’s another — let’s say you were supposed to meet some friends for lunch and completely forgot.  The obvious reason you could give would be, “I’m so sorry, I forgot.”  Then you sit back and see if you are offered forgiveness.  Most people are uncomfortable with that tactic and will resort to excuses like, “I’m so sorry, I got an important phone call for work and then I had to get XYZ done before 4 pm or I’d lose this great deal and somehow in the heat of everything it slipped my mind.”  Reminds me of the addage, “Oh the tangled web we weave…”  you still didn’t make lunch but now you are going to have to remember who you said called, what project you said you had to do and whether you got the deal if asked later… lots of opportunity to slip up!

At this point, you may be wondering why you should care about homework if you don’t have kids and aren’t in school or missed lunch dates.  These are examples leading up to a reason or excuse mindset that could make or break you in the current economy:

Do you use the economy as a reason or an excuse?

If the economy is the reason you are working even harder and smarter, the reason you are educating yourself about different ways to do things or create income with your art – then you will most likely be busy, survive and be ready to thrive as opportunities come along and things start to get better.

If the economy is an excuse not to do anything – things are so bad no one is licensing or buying art anyway so why bother – you will get just what you expect, caught up on your favorite TV shows or whatever you are doing while using the economy as an excuse to not make the effort to succeed.

See the difference?  Pretty huge by my way of looking at it!  I say there is a reason for every action or inaction, whether they are helpful or not is another story.  Look at and listen to reasons and try to catch yourself when you are making excuses that hurt your progress.

Here’s to a creative and prosperous 2009!

~ Tara

10 Responses to Do you know the subtle difference between a 'reason' and an 'excuse'?

  • Um, but my dog DID eat my homework. Actually, she ate a library book. Try explaining THAT to the librarian. 😉 Oh, and we believe me, we tried!

    While I’m an idealist, I’m also a realist. Unfortunately, there are many who jump into their own business with lofty ambition and wonder why my perspective is so pragmatic. It’s simple deconstruction like you’ve mentioned above that is needed to keep one’s feet soberly to the ground.

  • Only YOU would have a dog that actually ate school stuff! Did the librarian believe you? I assume you had the book with tooth marks to back you up! LOL

  • Hi Tara,

    Great post and wonderful insight into the difference between a ‘reason’ and an ‘excuse.’ I’ve danced in that tangled web once or twice myself. No good (or very little) ever comes of it. I’ve included a link to your post in my blog post ‘Tuesday’s Business’ which will be published on 1/6.

    Happy New Year!


  • Thanks Amy! Sometimes the subtle difference between words can have a huge impact on your mindset!

  • Hi Tara, now that it’s four years later, let’s here a revised statement about excuses and reasons. Thank you…let’s hope for a prosperous 2013! :)

  • In this instance, could you change the word “reason” with “Statement of Fact” and get the same result? I realize this is coming years after the fact, but I am trying to get a situation worked out and this seems to be holding things up.

    My feeling is, I am making “Statements of Facts” / Reasons while the other party insists on saying that I am making excuses. Any thoughts on how to deal with a Headstrong, difficult person?

  • Ray,

    Thanks for reading this blog post! When dealing with a difficult situation, sometimes the best (and hardest) thing to do is to completely take the emotion out of the discussion. Just keep it black and white – make sure your “Statement of Facts” does not include emotional overtones. Also, remember that sometimes it’s best to come to a quick resolution, than to draw out a lengthy argument just to prove you are right.

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