‘My dog ate my homework’

Published on: August 7, 2019

Chamber News & Views

We make excuses every day, trying to explain away a multitude of sins: Why you were late for work; Why you didn’t show up at Big Bill’s birthday bash. The list goes on and on.
But there’s a big difference between a lame excuse and a good one. I’m eager to figure out how to think up better excuses.
According to Pauline Sliwa, a fellow in philosophy at Cambridge University, when you make an excuse, you are negotiating the size of a debt. In other words, when you act badly and need that excuse, you incur a debt of sorts. What happens if you missed the aforementioned birthday bash for Big Bill? You owe him an apology and maybe a cocktail. However, if your excuse is that you forgot his birthday present at home and went back to pick it up, you may owe him less of an apology. You do have to apologize for being late, but you don’t have to apologize for being inconsiderate. You had a good excuse.
You can minimize the debt you owe by demonstrating that you meant well. Good excuses always show that you had the right intentions if not the best outcome. Okay. Going to work on my good intentions to create my good excuses.
Anderson Leadership Solutions sees it a little differently. They’re not so much concerned with good excuses versus lame excuses. They’re looking at excuses versus reasons. We use excuses to be sure other people know the circumstances that caused our failure. But sometimes there are legitimate reasons for that failure: Your kid was sick; your alarm didn’t go off; you lost your car keys. We’re good if we know the difference between an excuse and a reason. Excuses are used to avoid responsibility for a failure. But what if you have a good reason for being late for Big Bill’s birthday bash? I left the house late; traffic was bad; I don’t really like Bill. Don’t beat yourself up over that. It’s not like you threw a load of trash on top of the chamber’s dumpster! (You didn’t, did you?)
I’m not sure about either of those approaches. I believe that if I am wrong about something, I stand on the carpet and take the blame. But what if an excuse is all you’ve got, and it’s legitimate? Excuse away! Make up your own mind about which approach you buy into. But if you’re going to use an excuse on me, please make it better than: “My dog ate my homework.”
Lynne Conlan is Executive Director of the Sun City Center Area Chamber of Commerce. Call her at 813-634-5111, or email