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The Worst Excuse I’ve Ever Heard

August 16, 2021
Willie Nelson - Age, Songs & Family - Biography

Poor old, wrinkled, bandanaed, pigtailed, IRS hounded Country crooner Willie Nelson may have found a cash cow to milk in his twilight years. Or his manager did it for him. In either case, if he’s getting some kind of payment for every time the FedEx ad on TV plays which uses a couple of phrases from one of his most famous songs, he’s got to be raking it in. I see it all the time. The ad’s somewhere between a promotion of their services and virtue signaling that they’re doing heroically more than their fair share to save the planet by reducing their carbon footprint, which should make you want to use them instead of their competitors.

The two lines that are in the ad are (and if you’re old, feel free to sing along): “Maybe I didn’t love you quite as often as I could have, but you were always on my mind…”

While this makes a pretty good Willie Nelson song (and it does), it makes a HORRIBLE apology. In fact, it’s the worst apology I’ve ever heard. And I’ve heard a lot of them. Shoot, I’ve made a lot of them! This one still tops the charts for the worst. It’s actually not an apology. It’s an excuse, and not even that good of an excuse.

Here’s the thing. There’s a huge and important difference between an apology and an excuse. Always On My Mind crosses the line from apology to excuse. LOTS of intended apologies do. I think most of the time the offerors of these broken apologies don’t even know they’ve broken them by making them excuses.

What breaks an apology and makes it an excuse is a condition. The two key words for this are “if” and “but.” You know, “If I hurt you, I sure didn’t mean to…” Or, “I know you got your feelings hurt, but…” I hear this so often in marriage counseling. I mean WAY often. Most of the time when an excuse like this, masquerading as an apology, happens, the recipient isn’t very thrilled with it. In fact, they almost always get defensive, and then go on the offensive.

And here’s why. When I break an apology and make it an excuse by adding a condition, I’m shedding the blame for my action. In fact, I’m not just shedding the blame for it, I’m usually casing it on the person I’m apologizing/excusing to. “My motives were good. You just took it wrong.” Or, “I was wrong, but if you were more mature, this wouldn’t be such a big deal.” Or in the Willie Nelson vein, “Maybe I did something that hurt you, but I think fondly of you all the time. Doesn’t that count for something?” The answer is NO.

In marriage and family life, making good apologies is essential and is needed all the time. Spouses to spouses. Parents to children. Children to parents. We’re going to make mistakes and hurt people we love. That’s an unfortunate part of the human condition. When our apologies are excuses, though, instead of nurturing love and security where it’s most needed, at home, we do the opposite. An actual apology, when done in humility and sincerity, can enrich a relationship and nurture love. Excuses just add more reasons to the growing list of why it’s not safe here.

Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas (not my Jenny… she’s way smarter and prettier than the one who co-authored this book) wrote a book entitled The Five Languages of Apology. Gary Chapman is the guru and originator of the Five Love Language thing (a really good tool for human relations in any setting, which I highly recommend). Chapman and Thomas do an extensive job of unpacking the whole apology thing, and offer some great advice on it. If you find your apologies aren’t being accepted very often, it could be that you need to get the book and do a little work with it.

My experience is that when I own what I did without attempting to shed blame or cast it on the one I hurt, and do this with sincerity and humility, their heart generally opens to me. How quickly they open their heart has to do with how deeply I hurt them, how often I’ve done it, and how long it took me to own up to my behavior.

Here’s one more thing I’ve learned. At the close of my sincere and humble apology, asking a question can be appropriate and helpful, especially in marriage and family life. A simple question. “Can you forgive me?”

It takes some nerve to ask this question, because the person to whom I apologize and from whom I ask forgiveness isn’t obligated to say yes to my question. It’s a risk worth taking, though.

In your career, the principle’s the same. Sincere, humble apologies instead of excuses don’t make mistakes and emotional injuries go away, but they can make it possible to move forward with less lasting damage in the relationship. And your career is all about relationships, whether you think it is or not.

If I’ve left something important out of this, I’m sorry. No, wait. That pesky conditional if needs to go away. I’m pretty sure I’ve left some important things out of this, and for that I’m sorry. I hope you’ll be able to harvest something good out of it that will help you grow stronger relationships in your marriage, family and career. And one of the things that is likely to do is to make your testimony for the Savior shine brighter and clearer.

From → Marriage

  1. Michael Landis permalink

    I like this conversation, thank you. : )
    Excuses vs humility, security and nurturing love in an apology. Words matter so let’s share the right way to use them. I hear many give apologies but they are not sincere. Because they want peace and not rejection, they apologize and submit to the needs of the hurt. They feel they did nothing wrong but understand the sensitivity of the person they hurt but don’t take responsibility for their ability to protect them. They get frustrated/impatient and say the wrong words with a bad tone and feelings are hurt. With the apology, Ideal heeling occurs I feel when the hurt person realizes their insecurity and understands this relationship and uses the armor of God to protect themselves when the other is weak. A lot to reflect on and your post plants helpful seeds, thank you. : )

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